Washington will redirect some of the money it owes the World Health Organisation to pay other UN debts following President Trump's decision to withdraw from the global health body over its handling of Covid-19.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the opening of the 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. May 20, 2019.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the opening of the 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. May 20, 2019. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone / AP)

The United States is refusing to pay some $80 million in dues to the World Health Organisation (WHO), saying the money will be redirected to help pay its United Nations bill in New York. 

The United States announced its plan to leave the WHO after President Donald Trump accused the organisation of becoming a puppet for China during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The formal withdrawal notice, which won’t take effect until next year, was sent to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on July 6, 2020.

Reform or lose support

The withdrawal announcement came in late May, less than two weeks after Trump warned the WHO that it had 30 days to reform or lose US support, citing what he believed was the organisation's inadequate response to the global pandemic.

Trump said that China exerted "total control" over the Geneva-based organisation as they “ignored” their reporting obligations during the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, misleading the public about the severity of the virus.

“We have detailed the reforms that it must make and engaged with them directly, but they have refused to act,” Trump said at the time. "Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating the relationship.”

UN Foundation President Elizabeth Cousens criticised the US's decision to leave "amid the greatest public health crisis that Americans and the world have faced in a century" as being "short-sighted, unnecessary, and unequivocally dangerous."

READ MORE: US formally notifies UN on WHO withdrawal by July 2021 

Financial obligation

Under a 1948 joint resolution of Congress, the US had to give one-year notice of withdrawal from the WHO and is required to pay its dues for the organisation’s current fiscal year. 

These terms dictate that the US must meet its financial obligations to the WHO before its exit can be finalised. The US is the agency's largest donor and provides it with more than $400 million per year.

Nerissa Cook, State Department Bureau of International Organisation Affairs deputy assistant secretary of state, said the United States currently owes the WHO some $18 million for financial year 2019 and $62 million for financial year 2020.

“Those together are being reprogrammed to the UN to pay the regular UN assessment,” said Cook, referring to money that Washington is required to pay the United Nations in New York.

New global health partners

Dr Alma Golden, US Agency for International Development assistant administrator for global health, said that in most cases Washington had identified new partners to continue the global health assistance it had carried out with the WHO. 

But she said a one-time payment of $68 million would be made to the WHO for health assistance in Libya and Syria and efforts to eradicate polio in priority countries because these “reflect the few cases in which WHO has the unique capability that an alternate partner could not replicate at this time.” 

Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, has said he would rejoin the WHO if he defeats Trump, a frequent critic of the UN, in a November election. 

READ MORE: The timeline of Trump's attacks on the WHO

Source: Reuters