The United States is the single biggest financial contributor to the U.N. agency, and its exit will hit its budget even as it struggles with a global pandemic that has resulted in more than 364,000 deaths.
Trump said that the annual $400 million that the U.S. contributes to the organization will be redirected “to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs” without giving specifics.
Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister, tweeted in English on Saturday that Trump’s decision to sever ties with the organization was “a disappointing backlash for International Health.”
Spahn added that the WHO “needs reform” if it is to make “any difference for the future.” Germany will take over the rotating E.U. presidency in July and the minister said finding a way for the European Union to “take a leading role and engage more financially” with the U.N. agency would be prioritized.
South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, called Trump’s move “unfortunate.”
“Certainly, when faced with a serious pandemic, you want all nations in the world to be particularly focused … on one common enemy,” he told reporters, according to the Associated Press.
A spokesman for the British government said the WHO had an “important role to play in leading the international health response” to the pandemic. “We have no plans to withdraw our funding,” the statement said.
The European Union urged Trump to reconsider.
In a joint statement, E.U. Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said that “as the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the main task for everyone is to save lives and contain and mitigate this pandemic.”
“Now is the time for enhanced cooperation and common solutions,” the statement added. “Actions that weaken international results must be avoided. We urge the U.S. to reconsider its announced decision.”
A number of scientists and global health experts also stepped forward to voice their support for the organization.
In Australia, Peter Doherty, the founder of the Doherty Institute, whose modeling has played a role in the government’s response to the crisis, tweeted that the WHO is “central to the global fight against COVID-19.” He added that the “leadership has seemed overcautious in some of its statements,” but added that “much of the real, essential work of the WHO” goes on at lower, professional levels.
Gail Carson, director of network development at the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium, warned that a pandemic was “not the time” to make health political.
Richard Horton, the editor of the Britain-based Lancet medical journal, which has not shied away in its criticism of Trump’s handling of the crisis, wrote: “We give our 100% support to the World Health Organization at this time of crisis.”
“The U.S. government has gone rogue at a time of humanitarian emergency,” he added.