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Trump takes on WHO: From threats to defunding, here's how it all happened

16 April 2020 - 11:37 By Cebelihle Bhengu
Donald Trump shocked many this week by withdrawing US funding to the WHO.
Donald Trump shocked many this week by withdrawing US funding to the WHO.
Image: REUTERS/Leah Millis.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has decried US President Donald Trump's decision to halt funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) after he accused it of withholding crucial information on the coronavirus and being "China-centric".

Trump's decision came less than a week after he threatened to defund the WHO.

Here's a timeline of how it all unfolded:

April 7: Trump threatens WHO

Trump hinted that he might withdraw US funding to the WHO after he accused it of failing to prevent the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the country. He also accused it of withholding crucial information and being biased towards China, despite the fact that the US is the major WHO contributor.

“We're going to put a hold on money sent to the WHO and we'll see. It's a great thing if it works but when they call every shot wrong, that's no good,” he said.

Trump quickly did a U-turn when asked if he would withdraw funding.

“I'm not saying I'm going to do it, but I'm going to look at it. I said we'll look at it and we'll investigate it. We will look at ending funding because over the years, everything seems to be biased towards China,” he said.

April 8: Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responds 

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responded to Trump by warning against politicising the coronavirus.

“Don't politicise this virus. It exploits the differences you have at national level. If you want to be exploited and have many more body bags, then you do it,” he said.

He later took to Twitter to urge world leaders to focus on saving lives.

April 14: Trump puts WHO on review, halts funding

Addressing journalists from the White House on Tuesday, Trump announced that he had instructed his administration to put WHO on review to assess its role in the US and defund it pending the review.

In doing so he was ensuring that it was held accountable, he told media.

“The inability of the WHO to obtain various samples to this day has deprived the scientific community of essential data. New data that emerges across the world daily points to the unreliability of the initial reports and the world received all sorts of misinformation on the transmission and mortality,” he said.

He also accused the organisation of withholding scientific research conducted in Wuhan, China, on the origins of the virus and “the disappearance of scientific researchers and doctors” and of being biased towards China by failing to hold its government accountable for “hiding” crucial information.  

“They told us there was no need to put in a travel ban. The WHO's reliance on China's disclosures likely caused a 20-fold increase in cases worldwide and it may be more than that.”

April 14: WHO responds 

Guterres said it was vital for the WHO to receive sufficient funding as this enabled it to conduct research and halt the global spread of Covid-19.

He acknowledged that the unprecedented nature of the outbreak may have caused some mistakes in the interpretation of data.

He said that after the pandemic eventually subsides, the WHO and countries affected will need to reflect on how the crisis was handled and use these lessons to prepare for the future.

“It is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities. Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe - and how all those involved reacted to the crisis.”