US missing, China takes leader spotlight at WHA

Our COVID-19 coverage is free. Please consider a Devex Pro subscription to support our journalism.
A scene from the 73rd World Health Assembly, broadcasted virtually from the executive board room at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. Photo by: C. Black / WHO

MANILA — Chinese President Xi Jinping said China will provide $2 billion over two years to help with the COVID-19 response, just as U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to permanently freeze funding to the World Health Organization. Trump was absent from the virtual World Health Assembly meetings, where several other world leaders delivered video messages.

World Health Assembly

Follow our coverage of the World Health Assembly for the latest news and insider conversations on universal health coverage, global health security, and WHO reforms.

Instead, Trump posted a letter on his Twitter account Monday addressed to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying the review conducted by his administration “has confirmed many of the serious concerns” he raised against WHO in April.

He alleged that the organization’s “repeated missteps” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic “have been extremely costly for the world.”

Trump called for the organization to commit to “major substantive improvements within the next 30 days.” If not, he said, “I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization.”

Trump’s threats came just a few hours after the opening of the 73rd WHA on Monday, which took place virtually for the first time amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and where several world leaders spoke out in support of WHO.

Xi, who was among the few world leaders to deliver a speech during the high-level opening of the annual meeting, said that apart from the financing, China will work with the United Nations to set up a global humanitarian response depot and hub in China “to ensure the operation of anti-epidemic supply chains and foster green corridors for fast-track transportation and customs clearance.”

In depth for Pro subscribers: The return of 'global public goods'

What's behind the revival of this '90s term?

China will also establish a mechanism to pair up Chinese and African hospitals and accelerate the development of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters. In addition, a COVID-19 vaccine developed in China, when available, “will be made a global public good,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were among other leaders to address the assembly. While Trump was absent, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar made the same scathing statements against WHO in a video message.

“We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control. There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed and that failure cost many lives,” Azar said.

The U.S. official said the U.S. government supports calls for an independent review of WHO’s response to the pandemic. WHO must change and be more transparent, and member states should comply with the International Health Regulations, he said, adding that “at least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations with tremendous cost for the entire world.”

China, clearly the one being referenced in the video message, has repeatedly said it has acted with openness and transparency, and provided WHO information in a timely manner.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.