How will Trump’s halting of WHO funding impact global COVID-19 response?

Dr Farooq Yousaf

In what came as a major shock to the global community, American President Donald Trump, earlier this week, announced that he is suspending American funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The United States (US) president was critical of the WHO’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that the body “failed in its basic duty”, relied too much on the Chinese government’s information and, therefore, should be held accountable. During a media briefing on April 14th, Trump announced,

“Today I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess [its] role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”

His critics have since argued that Trump has simply used this decision as a diversion tactic, fending off criticism aimed at his administration for not only mishandling the pandemic but also not taking it seriously. Moreover, philanthropists like Melinda Gates have warned that suspending the funding is “as dangerous as it sounds” as the world needs the “WHO now more than ever”.

Even though the WHO has refrained from directly criticising the decision and President Trump, the body’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that the politicisation of the coronavirus pandemic can lead to many more deaths. He stated,

“If you want to be exploited and if you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”

The WHO was formed in 1948 and was mandated to assist its member states with primary healthcare along with a supervision of global public health issues and emergencies. The WHO is made functional and operational through voluntary contributions from its member states. However, as seen in the chart below, the US is, by far, the biggest contributor to the WHO. Therefore, President Trump’s decision to suspend the funding can have far-reaching consequences in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

Photo: AFP

It is also worth noting that even though the Trump administration is now pinning nearly all the blame on China, the US president was all praise for the Chinese government in January for its tackling of the Covid-19 pandemic. On January 25th, Trump tweeted,

China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

However, keeping aside Trump’s decision, a lot of questions have also been raised about how the WHO initially handled the situation. The body is accused of not taking the threat of Covid-19’s human-to-human transmission seriously in January.

On December 31, 2019, after gaining knowledge of the first coronavirus cases, the Chinese government informed the WHO of a pneumonia-like case in Wuhan. Then on January 14, 2020, the WHO shared initial Chinese investigations on the virus, stating that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus. It was on January 22nd, following a brief visit to China, that the WHO stated human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus was happening in China. However, the WHO also took the position of praising China for its response and commitment to transparency in handling the outbreak.

Therefore, even though Trump did mainly use the WHO to divert blame for the shortcomings in his own leadership, his critique of the global health body still carries some weight.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, and following Trump’s WHO announcement and back to back accusations against China, many have now pointed out the visible and growing cracks in global, especially Western, cooperation to deal with this crisis.

Back in 2014, the US effectively responded to the Ebola outbreak by sending in medical supplies and troops to West Africa. However, this time around, the US is virtually absent from the global debate on the outbreak’s unified response. Nathalie Tocci, the director of the Italian Institute for International Affairs and a former European Union (EU) policy adviser, summarises the US absence in the following words,

To me what is so striking is the complete absence of the US from public debates. The US is basically off the map, and China very much is on the map.”

Moreover, by calling it a “Chinese virus”, the Trump administration has already made its intentions clear of not wanting to cooperate with China on the pandemic’s global response. Secondly, the “idea” of the European Union has also come under question as Italy, amid its coronavirus crisis, felt it was abandoned by the EU member states. The EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen issued an apology to Italy, on behalf of the EU, saying,

“Too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand. And yes, for that, it is right that Europe as a whole offers a heartfelt apology.”

On the other hand, after announcing a state of emergency in March, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic issued a call for help from China, stating that “the only country that can help us is China”.

In short, the coronavirus pandemic has effectively led the global community on a path towards a reset; this includes a reset of the global economy, healthcare facilities, bilateral and multilateral ties, and climate change policies. However, even with these developments, it is too early to predict whether the US will lose its status of a ‘global power’.

Originally published by Express Tribune

What can Pakistan learn from Australia and New Zealand’s COVID-19 response?

Dr Farooq Yousaf

As the global community is still finding ways to contain the deadly spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), both Australia and New Zealand are effectively working towards “flattening the curve” of daily new cases of COVID-19 infections. These two countries present concise case studies of effective tackling of the deadly pandemic not only for Pakistan but also for the rest of the world.

As of April 10, 2020, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan stand at 6152, 1015, and 4601 respectively. Even though the number of cases in both Australia and New Zealand is still on the lower side, compared to other “western” states, their response has been somewhat swift, systematic and aggressive.

Fig 1: Confirmed COVID-19 Cases (Until April 10, 2020)

Australia has enforced strict measures for both its citizens and residents as well as international visitors and visa holders. On March 19, Australian PM Scott Morrison, without any prior warning, announced to close the country’s borders to all “non-citizens”. This meant that other than Australian citizens, permanent residents and those on special status visas, no one was allowed to enter the country after the PM’s announcement.

Moreover, the country also imposed a strict quarantine policy for all citizens and permanent residents arriving in Australia. The Department of Home Affairs, in that regard, says that:

All travellers arriving in Australia must undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine at designated facilities (for example, a hotel), in their port of arrival.

For international citizens in Australia, the government suggests:

Due to the current situation in Australia due to COVID-19, including state and territory border restrictions, business closures and social distancing requirements, all international visitors are encouraged to depart if it is possible to do so.

Similarly, New Zealand, which is one of few countries to have effectively contained the spread of COVID-19 in recent days, has also implemented an “Alert Level 4 – Eliminate” for the pandemic. Level 4 Alert implies that “it is likely that the disease is not contained”. According to Michael Baker and Nick Wilson, writing for The Guardian, this “elimination approach” by New Zealand is different from the “mitigation” approach of managing the “pandemic influenza”. According to them:

With mitigation, the response is increased as the pandemic progresses, and more intensive interventions such as school closures are often held in reserve to “flatten the peak”. By contrast, disease elimination partly reverses the sequence by using vigorous interventions early to interrupt disease transmission. 

It is due to this aggressive approach that the number of daily new cases in both Australia and New Zealand is steadily falling as can be seen in Fig 1 below.

Fig 2: Daily New COVID-19 Confirmed Cases (Until April 10, 2020)

A major take away from both Australia and New Zealand is the fact that both the countries were able to implement an early lock-down; not only enforcing social distancing measures but also recommending that all non-essential workers work from home. Moreover, both countries also shut down their borders for international travel. By doing that, both the countries effectively controlled the transmission chain of the virus; buying essential time to implement their virus-elimination measures.

When it comes to testing, we find that both Australia and New Zealand boast a higher number of “tests per 1000 people” when compared to Pakistan.

Fig 3: Total Tests for COVID-19 (Until April 10, 2020)

In terms of the total number of tests, Australia has so far conducted 338,000 tests, New Zealand 59,000 and Pakistan 58,000 COVID-19 tests (see above, Fig 3).  Therefore, where Australia and New Zealand’s “tests per 1000 people” stand at 13.2 and 12.1 respectively, Pakistan, on the other hand, has conducted a paltry 0.28 tests per 1000 people (see below, Fig 4).  

Fig 4: Total Tests per 1000 people (Until April 10, 2020)

Having discussed these measures, it is also worth noting that not all countries enjoy the luxury of pursuing the “elimination strategy”. Such a strategy can only work for countries that can effectively seal their borders and can bear the immense costs of testing and healthcare support. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the European continent and the US followed the “mitigation” strategy, which not only overburdened the healthcare system but also resulted in high infection and fatality rates.

However, even with such complications, a major lesson for Pakistan that needs to be learnt from both Australia and New Zealand is following a clear and concise policy. Both these countries, from the early rise in number of infections, were clear in their approach and policy actions. Even though Pakistan might not enjoy these favorable conditions – such as easy to manage borders and a stable economy – it can still ensure that its “mitigation strategy” for containing the coronavirus pandemic is clear and well laid-out. Only a clear policy and its implementation can, therefore, pull Pakistan out of this global health catastrophe that has claimed thousands of lives.

(Data Source: Our World in Data)

The author holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Newcastle and is currently based in Australia.