WHO chief says he has good relationship with Trump despite president's comments

WHO chief says he has good relationship with Trump despite president's comments

13:06 - The World Health Organization's (WHO) director-general said Monday he hopes to maintain good relations with the United States as President Trump sends signals he is considering cutting the agency's funding in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he spoke with Trump two weeks ago.

"The United States is actually the largest contributor to WHO, and I have met President Trump a number of times before, starting from 2017," Tedros said. "What I know is that he is supportive, and I hope the funding to WHO will continue. The relationships that we have is very good, and we hope this will continue."

Trump said Friday that the United States had contributed far more to the WHO than other countries, specifically China.

"We're going to talk about the WHO next week in great detail," Trump said during his daily press briefing. "But over the years, many years, we've been paying them from 300 to 500, and even more, million dollars a year. China has been paying them less than 40 over the years. So we're paying them more than 10 times more than China. And they are very, very China-centric, as I said during the week. China-centric."

"China always seems to get the better of the argument, and I don't like that. I really don't like that. I don't think that's appropriate. I don't think it's fair to the American people. And, you know, I tell that to President Xi. I tell that to Dr. Tedros. I spoke to him one time. I think he's a very nice man. I liked him," Trump added. "But we're going to be talking about that next week in great detail. We're looking at it very, very closely. We want to make sure money is properly spent."

The WHO, a United Nations-affiliated organization, is chronically underfunded. The agency has spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting the coronavirus that has spread across the globe, and it is one of the only agencies still fighting an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Congo.

Tedros did not respond to a follow-up question about the impact potential cuts would have on the WHO's ability to fight the coronavirus and its spread.

But other top WHO officials pushed back on criticisms that the agency had been slow to offer coronavirus warnings. Mike Ryan, who heads WHO's Health Emergencies Program, said the agency had issued its first alerts just days after China reported an initial cluster of unexplained pneumonia — warnings that he said had helped some U.S. states take early steps to prepare for a possible outbreak.

China reported its cluster of cases on Dec. 31. A day later, the WHO established an Incident Management Support Team. It published its first technical notice to the scientific community and public health officials on Jan. 5, a notice that included a risk assessment and advice for other countries. China publicly shared the genetic sequence of the coronavirus on Jan. 12. The WHO said publicly two days later that human-to-human transmission was possible, and that there was a risk of a wider outbreak.

Republicans in Congress have tried to shift focus from the Trump administration's slow response to the pandemic to the WHO, including calling on Tedros to testify in Washington and seeking documents relating to the WHO's interactions with China. The Washington Post reported Monday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to recommend either cutting payments or making future contributions conditional.

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