The head of the World Health Organization vowed on Tuesday to continue to lead the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic, after President Donald Trump threatened to cut off funding and to quit the body.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus defended his agency’s role, after the United States again caused ripples by withholding full support for a resolution on the pandemic.
Washington allowed the resolution calling for a review into the global response to the pandemic to pass by consensus, but announced it was objecting to language about reproductive health rights and permission for poor countries to waive patent rules.
“We want accountability more than anyone,” Tedros told a virtual meeting of the body’s 194 member states. “We will continue providing strategic leadership to coordinate the global response” to the pandemic.
Hours after Trump tweeted his threaten to quit the WHO, the United States allowed the resolution to be adopted without a vote. The resolution calls for a review into the WHO-led global response, something the United States has demanded.
But in a statement, Washington said it dissociated itself from language in the resolution on patents and reproductive healthcare.
Paragraphs on the right of poor countries to waive patents to obtain medicine during a health emergency would “send the wrong message to innovators” trying to produce new drugs and vaccines, the U.S. mission in Geneva said in an “explanation of position”.
The reproductive healthcare language could be interpreted as requiring countries to permit abortion: “The United States believes in legal protections for the unborn,” it said.
BACKING FROM CHINA
Even as Trump has proposed quitting the WHO, the body has received backing and a two-year pledge of $2 billion in funds from China’s President Xi Jinping.
During his three years in office, Trump has criticised many international organisations and quit some. Still, European diplomats said they were taken aback by Washington’s decision to stand aside at the WHO while China is boosting its role.
“It was so striking to see Xi Jinping seizing the opportunity to open up, with broad (cooperation), and make a proposal for $2 billion, and say if ever there is a vaccine they will share it with everyone,” a European diplomat said.
“It’s exactly what we feared: the space liberated by Washington will be taken up by China.”
The Geneva-based body declined to comment on Trump’s threat to quit, saying only that it had received a letter from Trump and was considering its contents.
Tuesday’s resolution, sponsored by the European Union, calls for a review into how the novel coronavirus spread after making the jump from animals to humans, believed to have happened in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
On Monday, the WHO said an independent review of the global coronavirus response would begin as soon as possible. “I will initiate such an evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment,” Tedros said on Tuesday.
Diplomats said ultimately Washington had decided not to block it outright, despite its objections.
“There is a strong desire on their part to join consensus,” a Western diplomat said ahead of adoption. Referring to the intellectual property issue in particular, the diplomat added: “If they don’t join, they are isolated, unfortunately. There is really a global consensus on the importance of this.”