WHO withdrawal, a US budget bill, and PEF 2.0: This week in development

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The U.S. House of Representatives proposed an $8.5 billion increase in foreign aid for fiscal year 2021. Photo by: @karolina-grabowska on Pexels

Trump moves forward with WHO withdrawal plans, U.S. lawmakers propose $10 billion for the global COVID-19 response, and the World Bank scraps PEF 2.0. This week in development:

The White House formally notified the United Nations of its intent to withdraw from the World Health Organization on Monday in a brief letter from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Withdrawal, which requires a one-year notification period, would take effect on July 6, 2021 — notably, after the U.S. presidential election in November. On Tuesday, a U.N. spokesperson said Guterres was in the process of “verifying” whether the U.S. government had met all of the conditions for withdrawal laid out in WHO’s constitution, which include fully meeting the payment of assessed financial obligations. The U.S. is believed to have a bill of a few hundred million dollars in unpaid dues to the global health body, which experts believe would have to be settled before withdrawal can take place. The White House’s decision — and its broader effort to undermine the credibility of WHO — has been met with steady and often bipartisan criticism since President Donald Trump announced a pause on U.S. funding to the organization in April. Critics say withdrawing from an international body that performs a wide range of research, prevention, regulatory, and response functions while the COVID-19 pandemic is still accelerating will weaken America’s involvement in any discussions about reform and risks undermining a wide variety of other U.S. global health priorities that have been impacted by the crisis. On Thursday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced “an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the lessons learned from the international health response to #COVID19," which will be led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The U.S. House of Representatives proposed boosting U.S. foreign aid by nearly $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2021, with $10 billion for the global response to COVID-19. The Democrat-led chamber’s appropriations committee released a budget bill that would increase foreign affairs spending to $65.87 billion. “The House bill rejects the president’s ‘go it alone’ approach to foreign policy and expresses this committee’s concerns about the timely obligation and prudent expenditure of resources,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, who chairs the appropriations committee and the state and foreign operations subcommittee, on Monday. The bill includes funding for WHO and the U.N. Population Fund, both of which have seen the Trump administration block funding. While the bill represents a step forward in the U.S. budget process — and a signal that lawmakers might begin to prioritize international funding for the pandemic — it still faces a lengthy budget process. Democratic lawmakers included policy provisions like the Global HER Act, which would permanently repeal the “global gag rule” and which most Republicans consider a non-starter. Additionally, many experts expect the appropriations process will not be resolved before the end of the current fiscal year in September, likely resulting in a continuing resolution that allows federal agencies to still function without finalizing a newly negotiated budget.

The World Bank has scrapped plans to develop a second version of its heavily criticized Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility — an insurance scheme for delivering rapid financing to countries experiencing outbreaks that, according to critics, has been plagued by a poorly designed model benefiting investors more than communities vulnerable to disease. The bank was expected to tweak its financing facility and launch the so-called PEF 2.0 this year, but a bank spokesperson told the Financial Times that it is no longer moving forward. PEF has come under fire multiple times for failing to deliver timely funding to countries because their situations did not meet its narrow payout criteria. “It ought to be studied, and there ought to be careful and rigorous reflection when people call for innovative finance involving the private sector,” said former World Bank Chief Economist Lawrence Summers in April 2019, when PEF faced criticism for failing to deliver funding to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the midst of an Ebola outbreak. “In the wake of this coronavirus outbreak we need to rethink financing pandemics,” Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, told the Financial Times. “We need to somehow engage with private money because public money isn't enough or isn't fast enough.”

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.