Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend funding to the World Health Organization as “dangerous,” saying the payments should continue particularly during the global coronavirus pandemic.
“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Gates tweeted early Wednesday. “Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.”
The United States, the organization’s largest donor, has committed to provide the WHO with $893 million during its current two-year funding period, a State Department spokesperson told The Washington Post.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the family’s giant philanthropy based in Seattle, is the next biggest donor to WHO after the U.S., accounting for close to 10 percent of the United Nations agency’s funding.
As The Post’s Anne Gearan reported, the president said on Tuesday that the halt in U.S. funding would continue for a period of 60 to 90 days “while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role and severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
“We have not been treated properly,” Trump said at the Tuesday press briefing. He added, “The WHO pushed China’s misinformation about the virus.”
It remains unclear whether the United States will cut off money to the main international organization, or if Trump is setting conditions for a resumption of U.S. payments at a later date, The Post reported.
The announcement looms as a potentially devastating blow to the agency during the coronavirus pandemic, as the United States’ donations make up nearly 15 percent of all voluntary donations given worldwide.
The criticism from Gates, whose foundation has committed up to $100 million as part of the global response to the pandemic, comes as Trump has attempted to deflect blame for the administration’s failure to respond vigorously and early to the deadly novel coronavirus.
Also defending the WHO was U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who, while not naming Trump, said that it was “not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.”
“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” he said.
Others, such as the American Medical Association, called Trump’s announcement to cut WHO funding “a dangerous step in the wrong direction.”
“Cutting funding to the WHO — rather than focusing on solutions — is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world,” the organization said in a statement. “The AMA is deeply concerned by this decision and its wide-ranging ramifications, and we strongly urge the President to reconsider.”
While some of Trump’s conservative allies are now focusing on the WHO as complicit in a Chinese cover-up of the outbreak, others have urged the president to hold off on moving forward on suspending funding.
“If the president wants to genuinely hold the WHO accountable, counter Chinese efforts to shift blame for COVID-19, and reform the WHO to better respond to the next pandemic, he should not cut funding — at least not yet,” wrote Brett D. Schaefer, an expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation and member of the U.N.’s Committee on Contributions.
It isn’t the first time that Gates has questioned the country’s response to the pandemic. In a TED interview last month, Gates, while not mentioning Trump by name, suggested that the push to relax social distancing to reopen the country was reckless.
“There really is no middle ground, and it’s very tough to say to people: ‘Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts,'” Gates said. “It’s very irresponsible for somebody to suggest that we can have the best of both worlds.”
In a March 31 op-ed for The Post, Gates emphasized that while the U.S. lost valuable time in getting out ahead of its response, there was still a path forward for recovery through decisions made by “science, data and the experience of medical professionals.”
“There’s no question the United States missed the opportunity to get ahead of the novel coronavirus. But the window for making important decisions hasn’t closed,” Gates wrote. “The choices we and our leaders make now will have an enormous impact on how soon case numbers start to go down, how long the economy remains shut down and how many Americans will have to bury a loved one because of COVID-19.”