Trump sets up fight with Congress over plan to cut dues to WHO immediately | World Health Organization

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The Trump administration is planning to cut its membership dues to the World Health Organization, in a legally controversial move that will be challenged by Congress.

The US issued its formal notice of withdrawal from the WHO in July, after Donald Trump accused the body of being pro-China and of failing to contain the coronavirus pandemic. However, the withdrawal does not take effect until next July, and until then – according to a 72-year-old agreement with Congress – the US is obliged to maintain its financial contributions.

By the time of the withdrawal notice, the first tranche of $58m of its “assessed contributions” – national membership dues – had already been paid, leaving a second tranche of $65m due this month. That will now be diverted, according to a state department briefing to Congress.

The notes said “the US is reprogramming the balance of its planned Fiscal Year 2020 assessed WHO contributions to partially pay an assessment to the UN, earlier than it would have otherwise”.

It is not clear, however, what part of the UN the diverted funds would go to. The state department also said that it would make a “one-time” voluntary contribution of $108m “in targeted, voluntary funds to specific WHO programs intended to safeguard the health and safety of the American people and save lives around the world”.

That sum is roughly equivalent to a third of current annual US voluntary contributions. The money would go to WHO programs where no feasible alternative organisation is operating, for example in Syria and Libya.

“I do not think that the president has the authority to cut funding. He certainly can’t do it on his own, without Congress,” Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University. “And I think it’s inconceivable Congress would support cutting funding to the World Health Organization. And so I think what he is doing is blatantly unlawful and also deeply detrimental to the health and security interests of the United States.”

Democrats in Congress have challenged the president’s right to reduce or divert funds from the WHO, saying it is a violation of the joint resolution of Congress that marked the US accession to the global health body in 1948.

Alexandra Phelan, adjunct professor in global and public health law and ethics at Georgetown University, said that according to the legal consensus, Trump “either has to fulfill the assessed contributions and financial commitments and then he is able to withdraw, or if he if he wants to divert or freeze any of the financial commitments the US has made to the WHO, then he cannot withdraw.”

The US is also expected to announce that over the next few months it will recall US health experts from the Department of Health and Human Services currently serving at the WHO headquarters in Geneva and its regional and country offices.

On Tuesday, the US made clear it would not be joining an international effort to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 because the WHO is helping lead that initiative, and rejected WHO concerns about US plans to distribute a vaccine before it had completed full trials.

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