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The Nikkei View

Now is not the time to undercut WHO efforts

Health agency's role crucial to ending virus pandemic

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a news conference in Geneva on Feb. 28.   © Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to pull funding for the World Health Organization, accusing it of being "China-centric" and lacking transparency. While the WHO does have flaws, now is not the time to jeopardize its efforts on the coronavirus pandemic. We must work closely together to stop COVID-19.

The number of infections continues to rise worldwide. The WHO is gathering data and advising member countries based on what researchers have learned about the virus. It is also coordinating international collaboration on clinical trials for treatments and the development of vaccines.

The WHO plays a key role in supplying coronavirus test kits and providing health care support to African and other developing countries, which face a risk of a surge in new infections. In the past the organization has fought Ebola, HIV and tuberculosis, taking action on prevention and treatment.

WHO activities are supported financially by member states, with the U.S. the single largest contributor at about 15%. Losing American funding will undermine the agency's efforts in the pandemic, which is sure to worsen the crisis in developing countries and in turn may lead to a second wave in countries that have bought it under control. Cutting off the money would do no good whatsoever for the U.S. and the world.

Leading contributors, including European countries and Japan, should demand that Washington abandon its funding freeze. As contributors to the WHO, they have a duty to step in and work together for sound management of the agency.

True, the WHO's handling of the crisis has been less than ideal. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeatedly praised the Chinese response, even though Beijing initially avoided disclosing epidemiological information about patients in Wuhan, exacerbating the outbreak. The organization's failure to immediately dispatch a team of doctors to the epicenter and assess the situation is also thought to have delayed its declaration of a public health emergency of international concern.

Moreover, the WHO has failed to make any progress on the longstanding issue regarding Taiwan. China has used its political influence to lock out Taiwan from the WHO and its annual assembly meeting -- a move that will hamper necessary coordination and exacerbate public health risks in times of disease outbreaks.

Some believe the director-general was too beholden to China, a major investor in African countries, including his native Ethiopia. Once the crisis passes, the WHO's governance and decision-making process must be investigated thoroughly and any missteps corrected.

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