President Donald Trump's announcement that the United States would temporarily cut off funding to the World Health Organization prompted the usual outrage from the commentariat. Bill Gates called defunding "as dangerous as it sounds." CNN chief grandstander Jim Acosta, in a line echoed by many other mainstream reporters, accused the president of making the WHO yet another "scapegoat" for his failure to respond adequately to the virus.
The president's move is not about shifting blame or making it harder to fight the coronavirus. Rather, it is about tackling the current public health crisis head on by putting the screws to an organization that has actively made the situation worse.
The United States gives the WHO hundreds of millions of dollars per year and President Trump is right to ask if we are getting our money's worth. The answer is, emphatically, no: The current pandemic has put on sorry display the fact that the WHO is more interested in appeasing the communist regime in Beijing than in fighting a global health crisis.
As much is apparent from the organization's willingness for months to blindly repeat Chinese misinformation. In January, while the PRC was failing to contain the coronavirus, the WHO parroted its claims that the disease did not spread human-to-human. Then it extolled the regime's success in containing the disease, papering over the brutality of its quarantine. The WHO's head, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has been particularly complicit, praising the Chinese government's "transparency" and uncritically accepting their claims that no new cases have emerged.
These pronouncements almost undoubtedly reflect the WHO bowing to pressure from Beijing. After a Jan. 22 meeting between Dr. Tedros, as he is known, and Chinese president Xi Jinping, the WHO declined to declare a public health emergency, giving greater weight to President Xi's desire to maintain legitimacy than to the importance of being honest about the situation on the ground. WHO officials also readily ape the Chinese regime's line on Taiwan. In a particularly cringeworthy moment, top WHO adviser Dr. Bruce Aylward simply ended an interview rather than answer a journalist's question about why Taiwan has been excluded from the organization. The answer: because the PRC does not want it there.
If gross deference to a dictatorship at the expense of global health does not seem like a reason to defund, realize that it is hardly the WHO's only offense. Throughout the crisis, the organization has put political correctness above public health. It derided travel bans as creating "fear and stigma." Dr. Tedros said as late as March 2 that "stigma, to be honest, is more dangerous than the virus itself." Trump would be flame broiled by the media for such flagrant minimization of risk.
The WHO is steeped in excess, paid for by U.S. taxpayers. It spends "more on travel than AIDS," according to an Associated Press report, dropping hundreds of millions on fancy resort stays for employees. Like much of the rest of the United Nations infrastructure, the WHO also has a longstanding preoccupation with condemning the state of Israel—what that has to do with the world's health, we cannot say.
American taxpayers are the WHO's leading funder, but the organization seems more interested in listening to our geopolitical adversaries than to the United States and its allies. Maybe the application of a little soft power will help it mend its ways. If not, good riddance; we'll be better off without it.