The World Health Organization’s head has said he would keep leading the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic after US President Donald Trump threatened to cut off funding and quit the body.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday defended the agency’s role after the United States again withheld full support for a resolution passed by member states on the pandemic.
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“We want accountability more than anyone,” Tedros told a virtual meeting of the WHO’s 194 member states. “We will continue providing strategic leadership to coordinate the global response.”
Washington allowed the resolution calling for a review of the global response to the pandemic to pass by consensus, but said it objected to language about reproductive health rights and permission for poor countries to waive patent rules.
WHO officials running the meeting clapped and cheered after the resolution was passed without a vote hours after Trump tweeted his threat to pull the US out of the body.
It calls for a review of the WHO-led global response, something the US has demanded.
But the US mission in Geneva said in a statement that paragraphs on the right of poor countries to waive patents to obtain medicine during a health emergency would “send the wrong message to innovators” trying to produce new drugs and vaccines.
The reproductive healthcare language could be interpreted as requiring countries to permit abortion. “The United States believes in legal protections for the unborn,” it said.
China and the US also sparred in the closing moments of the assembly over the issue of Taiwan. Taiwan lobbied hard to be included as an observer at the two-day meeting and received support from the US, Japan and others, but says it was not invited due to opposition from China.
Even as Trump has proposed quitting the WHO, the body has received backing and a two-year pledge of $2bn in funds from China’s President Xi Jinping.
Beijing has furiously denied the US allegations that it played down the virus threat, and accused Washington on Tuesday of trying to “smear China”.
“The US tries to use China as an issue to shirk responsibility and bargain over its international obligations to the WHO,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
Russia also denounced Trump’s threat.
“We are against breaking everything there is for the sake of one state’s political or geopolitical preferences,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by news agency Interfax.
Many other leaders expressed support for Tedros.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for international cooperation in response to the pandemic.
“At times like these, the greatest act of courage is to play as a team,” she continued, without an overt reference to the US.
During his three years in office, Trump has criticised many international organisations and quit some. Still, European diplomats said they were taken aback by Washington’s decision to stand aside at the WHO while China is boosting its role.
“It was so striking to see Xi Jinping seizing the opportunity to open up, with broad [cooperation], and make a proposal for $2bn, and say if ever there is a vaccine they will share it with everyone,” a European diplomat told AFP news agency.
“It’s exactly what we feared: the space liberated by Washington will be taken up by China.”
The WHO declined to comment on Trump’s threat to quit, saying only that it had received his letter and was considering its contents.
Agreement on probe
Tuesday’s resolution calls for a review into how the novel coronavirus spread after making the jump from animals to humans, believed to have happened in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year.
Some countries, including hard-hit Spain and Italy, suggested the body could emerge stronger from the pandemic through reform.
“This should be a time for renewing our organisation and we renew our strong commitment to the organisation,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.
More than 297,000 people have died of COVID-19 out of over 4.6 million infections worldwide since its emergence, and governments are scrambling to contain the virus while seeking ways to revive their economies.