WHO Director Thanks Multiple World Leaders for Support on World Health Day After Trump Threatens to Freeze U.S. Funding

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus thanked multiple world leaders for their support on World Health Day, as the international community worked to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The warm words from some leaders stood in contrast to the threats coming from the U.S., where President Donald Trump threatened to freeze American funding for the United Nations agency, accusing it of being too China-centric and "wrong about a lot of things."

Trump—who has been widely criticized for initially dismissing the threat of the novel coronavirus and failing to formulate a coherent federal response—said Tuesday that the WHO "really blew it." The president claims that the body was too slow to identify the threat of the outbreak in China, where government officials sought to hide the growing problem.

"For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric," Trump wrote on Twitter in reference to the WHO. "We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?"

At a later press conference, he doubled down on the criticism. "They called it wrong," Trump said of the WHO. "They really—they missed the call. And we're going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We're going to put a very powerful hold on it and we're going to see."

The WHO raised the alarm early on in the crisis, declaring a "public health emergency of international concern" at the end of January, one day before Health Secretary Alex Azar announced a public health emergency, and weeks before Trump declared a national emergency. Almost a month later, the president claimed on Twitter, "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA."

The president's main issue with the WHO appeared to be that it did not support his ban on some travel from China, introduced at the end of January. At the time, the WHO warned that such methods are usually not effective in containing pandemics, and that such a decision could divert attention and resources from more important efforts.

The president later appeared to walk back his funding threat. Responding to a reporter's question as to whether he would pull support for the body, the president replied, "I'm not saying that I'm going to do it. But we're going to look at it."

When he was told he had just said that funding would be withheld, the president falsely claimed, "No, I didn't. I said we're going to look at it."

U.S. funding comprises 14.67 percent of the WHO's entire budget, compared to less than a quarter of a percent from China. Losing this amount would have a huge impact on the body's ability at a time of a global health crisis. It would also undermine the WHO's ability to guard against future pandemics.

Support for the WHO could yet be politicized along party lines in the U.S. Trump allies have fallen in behind the president in dismissing the severity of the coronavirus threat and blaming China for its emergence.

On Tuesday, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump's most vocal supporters, said he would use his position on the Senate appropriations subcommittee to eliminate any money for the WHO in the next appropriations bill.

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric dismissed Trump's criticism of the WHO, Reuters reported. He said Ghebreyesus had overseen "tremendous work on COVID, in supporting countries with millions of pieces of equipment being shipped out, on helping countries with training, on providing global guidelines." He added, "WHO is showing the strength of the international health system."

Among the world leaders who expressed support for medical workers on World Health Day were Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Queen Elizabeth II.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO, Donald Trump, coronavirus
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is pictured during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 coronavirus at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on March 11, 2020. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images/Getty