Members Of WHO Vote On The Need To Investigate Global Coronavirus Response

May 19, 2020
Originally published on May 19, 2020 8:21 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump is threatening to cut all U.S. funding to the World Health Organization permanently and possibly withdraw from the agency altogether. The president says the WHO has been complicit with China in covering up vital information about the pandemic, and he says the WHO's response has been a failure. His threats come as member states agreed to an independent review of the U.N.'s global health agency's handling of the crisis, a review that Trump had been calling for. NPR global health correspondent Jason Beaubien is here to talk about all this.

Hey, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: So last night, President Trump tweets a letter to the WHO in which he says what exactly?

BEAUBIEN: So it's not entirely clear from this letter what President Trump wants the WHO to do. He says he wants reform. He wants transparency. He accuses the WHO of, quote, "an alarming lack of independence" from the People's Republic of China. He makes several claims in the letter that are simply not true. But the main gist of his argument is that China didn't inform the world fast enough about the potential severity of this disease. And the Trump administration is saying that the WHO was complicit in suppressing that information. This has all been denied by the WHO.

KELLY: Right. Speak to the timing for a second.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah.

KELLY: Why is the president pushing this in the middle of a pandemic?

BEAUBIEN: That is an interesting question. And he also did it right in the middle of the World Health Organization's annual meeting, which brings together representatives from 194 countries. It was a virtual meeting this year because of COVID. And essentially, there was only one item on that agenda, and that was this resolution about the pandemic. The resolution calls for a review of how the WHO and others have responded to the crisis, and it also calls for international cooperation on a vaccine and making any vaccine that is developed universally available.

And at this meeting, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the WHO and China made a mockery of their international obligations to share information about this health threat.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX AZAR: We saw that WHO failed at its core mission of information sharing and transparency when member states do not act in good faith. This cannot ever happen again.

BEAUBIEN: And despite the 194 countries, including the U.S., approving this review of the WHO's actions, Trump - in the middle of the meeting, actually late last night - tweeted out this letter saying he's suspending all U.S. funds to the WHO.

KELLY: Huh. What kind of reaction are you hearing to the American position, Jason?

BEAUBIEN: You know, in the global health world, amongst global health leaders, there's a lot of shock, a lot of disappointment. An official at Oxfam told me that Trump is overshadowing the work that all of these other nations are trying to do at the World Health Assembly to come together and find a solution to this pandemic. I spoke with Kelley Lee, a professor of global health at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. She says the idea of the U.S. just abandoning the WHO is crazy. You know, if we're going to have global trade and a globalized world, she says we need some global health agency.

KELLEY LEE: Unless the U.S. keeps its borders closed permanently and doesn't trade with anyone, doesn't let anyone in or out, I don't see how international cooperation can be set aside like that. We all need to have a WHO, and I think that lesson hasn't been learned in the White House. It's very odd that they can, you know, think that they can go their own way.

BEAUBIEN: But, basically, that is what the administration is proposing.

KELLY: All right. That reporting there from NPR global health correspondent Jason Beaubien.

Thank you, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: Thank you, Mary Louise Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.