The news about the suspension of funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) by the United States has sent shockwaves, both in America and abroad. Accusations targeting the organisation were voiced personally by US President Donald Trump. In his view, the WHO is responsible for the high prevalence of COVID-19. He insists that the organisation had failed to provide adequate information on time, and that when it finally arrived, it was based on official data from China, which, according to the US leader, did not reflect the real situation. The WHO has focused on China, while the United States is its principal benefactor. Judging by Trump’s statements, the White House is waiting for a “reform” of the WHO. The parameters of such reforms were not specified. But apparently, the organisation should pay more attention to the situation in the United States.
The demarche of the American leadership has caused a mixture of bewilderment and criticism for several reasons at once.
First, the suspension of WHO funding in the midst of a pandemic threatens its effectiveness in countering COVID-19. Without a doubt, the organisation must continue active work to combat the epidemic. Perhaps the missing resources will come from other WHO programmes. It is also possible that other donors will increase their contributions. But all this will take time. Of course, the main burden for countering the epidemic lies with nation states.
Third, accusations against WHO unwittingly suggest thoughts of trying to find a “scapegoat” against the background of the difficult epidemiological situation in America. It is hardly fair to speculate about the unpreparedness of the US health system for a problem of such magnitude. Many other states, including China, EU countries and Russia, were in a similar situation. However, the debate about access to healthcare for the general public in the United States has been controversial for a long time. Currently this is the most important issue on the domestic political agenda. American medical treatment ranks among the best in the world, but access to it is closely related to property status. Under normal conditions, this system has its own logic – roughly speaking, whoever earns is healed. However, in extreme conditions, when help is needed by huge masses of people, it is under serious pressure. Building a national healthcare system is the sovereign business of the United States. But laying the blame on the WHO, China or Russia will not solve the problems of US health care and is unlikely to help in the fight against the disease.
First of all, this practice will erode America’s global leadership. In the case of the WHO, others can take over this leadership – China, the European Union, India, and Russia. Moreover, they will do this not so much as to annoy Washington, as to solve common problems. Leaders are those who are able to lead in achieving a great goal, even if they have to pay more than others.
The Americans can reasonably answer that it is the United States today that is the world leader in assistance programmes. According to the State Department, the United States alone will spend $225 million to fight COVID-19 abroad, while $274 million has already been provided by the US government. The private sector and charitable organisations of America have raised $1.5 billion to fight COVID-19 abroad. Over the past 20 years, health care assistance has reached $140 billion.All of this is true. And the Americans really did a lot. However, politics knows many examples where colossal investments were discounted by mistake at a critical moment and in a critical place. “This is worse than a crime, this is a mistake.” The aphorism attributed to Talleyrand is unlikely to have lost its relevance. Even if we are talking about such a power as the United States, whose safety margin seems to be equipped enough to write off small and large misses.