WASHINGTON — U.S. agencies and departments that channel money to the World Health Organization have been asked not to send more such funds this fiscal year without first obtaining higher-level approval, two people familiar with the issue said.
The decision comes after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to cut off funding to the U.N. global health body over allegations that the WHO’s leaders are too friendly to China and made missteps in the early days of the coronavirus crisis.
The U.S. is the top donor to the WHO; it gave it more than $400 million in 2019, according to the State Department, which noted that China gave $44 million.
Trump said this week that the U.S. is evaluating its WHO funding, and the directive on getting higher-level clearance appears to be a part of that. The State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development are expected to be affected.
None of those executive branch units, nor the White House, immediately responded to a request for comment.
One of the people familiar with the issue said it’s not entirely clear yet who must give the ultimate signoff for forwarding funds to the WHO. It’s likely, however, to come out of the White House, possibly the National Security Council.
Some Republican lawmakers have joined Trump in blaming the WHO for alleged lapses in confronting the pandemic, saying the U.S. should withdraw the hundreds of millions of dollars it sends to the organization, that its leader should quit and that U.S. officials should investigate its actions.
“It has given sanction to the ham-fisted response of the Chinese and the misinformation perpetuated by the Chinese,” Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said in an interview on Thursday. “On all fronts, I’ve been not just unimpressed but outraged by the responsiveness and the performance of the World Health Organization.”
Young, who heads a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that deals with multilateral organizations, is calling on Tedros to testify before Congress.
Speaking alongside the president on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the WHO “hasn’t accomplished what it was intended to deliver” as far as ensuring global health, and that its U.S. funding deserved an evaluation.
But when asked if WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus should be ousted, Pompeo said “this is not the time to be to be doing that kind of change.”
Trump, meanwhile, said that U.S. leaders “haven’t made a determination” when asked about Tedros’ future. A former Ethiopian health official, he has won praise from his American counterparts, including infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.
Trump’s critics say the president is simply trying to find a scapegoat to deflect attention from his own failure to move quickly to stop the virus from spreading inside the United States.
They also argue that now would be a terrible time to weaken the WHO, given the agency’s central role in helping developing countries battle the outbreak and in disseminating information about the virus.
The WHO’s director general has defended himself and his organization while pleading with world leaders not to politicize the pandemic. The real fight is “between humanity and this virus,” he said this week.
Tedros was elected as the WHO’s director general for a five-year term in May 2017.