President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was cutting off U.S. payments to the World Health Organization during the coronavirus pandemic, accusing the organization of failing to do enough to stop the virus from spreading when it first surfaced in China.
But one of the nation's leading experts on pandemics says the president is making a mistake.
On the Morning News with Dave Lee on Wednesday morning, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said while the WHO isn't perfect, we need to support them.
"Well, you know, this is not a partisan comment. This is clearly a public health practice comment," said Osterholm. "You know, the WHO as an organization is far from perfect. I have had my own concerns and criticisms about how some of the work has been done. But to just end up deciding you're gonna withdraw support for an organization that also works hard to protect us in the United States? We may think that we're an island, but as this very virus is showing we're not."
The United States contributed nearly $900 million to the WHO’s budget for 2018-19, according to information on the agency’s website. That represents one-fifth of its total $4.4 billion budget for those years. In its most recent budget proposal from February, the Trump administration called for slashing the U.S. assessed funding contribution to the WHO to $57.9 million.
Osterholm says that's a shortsighted view by the White House.
"A virus somewhere in the world could be everywhere in the world tomorrow, and today," Osterholm told Dave Lee. "And so what we need to do is really take a step back and say, is this the correct way to try to deal with concerns we might have about how the WHO has done its job on this particular issue? And I think this is a terrible precedent to set that somehow we will just decide to fund or not fund. If I could use an equivalent experience, imagine how this country reacted if somebody in the executive office didn't like the way CDC did something, we're not going to fund CDC this year? That would be a disaster."
Osterholm is asking the administration to reconsider this decision."I urge on a nonpartisan, just public policy basis. I'm one of those people who have also had my concerns about some of things that the WHO has done, but I also understand the critical contributions they make. They're absolutely essential to responding to a public health crisis in this world. We need them. And this is a penny-wise, pound-foolish response."