Defeat virus first, criticise later, WHO envoy says after U.S. funding halt

Defeat virus first, criticise later, WHO envoy says after U.S. funding halt

FILE PHOTO: David Nabarro, candidate for Director General of the World Health Organization, attends a news conference at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

DUBAI (Reuters) – The World Health Organization’s COVID-19 special envoy on Wednesday urged countries to focus on defeating the deadly virus after the United States halted funding to the WHO over its handling of the global pandemic.

President Donald Trump, who has become increasingly hostile towards the WHO, on Tuesday announced the United States would cut off funding the Geneva-based organisation, prompting condemnation from infectious disease experts.

“There are one or two countries that seem to be quite concerned about actions that were taken early on in the pandemic…We say to everybody, we plead with everybody, look forward. Focus on the epic struggle right now and leave the recriminations until later,” special envoy David Nabarro told an online conference, without naming the United States or Trump.

“If in the process you decide you want to declare that you’re going to withdraw funding or make other comments about the WHO, remember this is not just the WHO, this is the whole public health community that is involved right now and every single person in the world…is sacrificing.”

The United States contributed more than $400 million to the WHO in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget and its biggest overall donor.

Trump has said the WHO failed to act on credible reports from sources in China’s Wuhan province, where the virus was first identified in December, that conflicted with Beijing’s account of the spread.

Nabarro, who served as the United Nations special envoy on Ebola, warned countries against complacency in tackling the virus which has infected some 2,001,548 people globally and killed at least 131,101, according to a Reuters tally.

“Respond rapidly, respond robustly and then you will be able to contain this virus and hold it at bay,” he said.

“If we argue about it, we will get into trouble. The virus will find its way between us and will catch us out and we will be asking ourselves why on earth didn’t we move more quickly. Why on earth didn’t we develop a unified strategic approach.”

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Toby Chopra and Mark Heinrich

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