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Donald Trump has said he is “terminating” America’s relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO), indicating the international body would get no more US funding.
The US president cited the body’s ties to Beijing as he made the announcement on Friday, saying: “China has total control over the World Health Organisation.”
Mr Trump’s decision to cut off ties with the body helping lead the worldwide response to Covid-19 while the pandemic is still happening triggered criticism from some quarters.
The US president has blamed the WHO for failing to warn countries quickly enough about the dangers of coronavirus and not doing enough to make China be transparent about the outbreak, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Mr Trump had previously paused funding to the WHO, pending an investigation carried out by his administration into the body's handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
“We have detailed the reforms that it must make and engaged with them directly, but they have refused to act," Mr Trump said from the White House’s Rose Garden.
"Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating the relationship."
Mr Trump noted the US contributes about $450 million to the world body while China provides about $40 million each year.
The US president has increasingly criticised the WHO’s Covid-19 handling, questioning why it did not insist on sending independent scientists into China when the outbreak began.
He has also blamed China for not alerting the world quickly enough to the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak.
Beijing has denied the US allegations that it played down the threat when the virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
It says Washington is trying to shirk its responsibilities to the WHO and shift blame for its own virus response.
Experts criticised the US president's announcement and have argued that it will put lives at risk.
Dr Gail Carson, a Consultant in Infectious Diseases at the University of Oxford, said: “If there was a time not to make health political it is now, when the world is in the throws of a pandemic. Now is the time for solidarity and to stand together to end the pandemic as soon as we can and to save lives. Now is not the time to weaken the world’s leading health agency who has shown strong leadership with strong technical messages throughout this pandemic.”
Dr Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said: “There is no logic to the move... Pandemics are, by definition, a global crisis. To not face Covid-19 with a united front seems futile. Given the scale of the outbreak in the US, this action appears nothing short of an attempt to refocus attention away from how this has been handled.”
Earlier this week, the WHO launched a new independently-run foundation for private donations, which the organisation hopes will give it greater control to direct philanthropic and public donations towards pressing problems such as the coronavirus crisis.
The vast majority of the WHO's budget is in voluntary contributions, which go straight from countries and other donors to their chosen destination.
The WHO therefore only has control over the spending of countries' "assessed contributions" from member states, which are calculated on their wealth and population.