SA throws weight behind WHO after Trump pulls funding

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has backed the WHO in the wake of the US president's attack.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has backed the WHO in the wake of the US president's attack.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali/Sowetan

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has thrown his - and SA's - full weight behind the World Health Organisation (WHO) as controversy swells over the actions of US President Donald Trump.

Speaking on Wednesday night, Mkhize, who did not mention Trump specifically, spoke about an issue "that has been raging in the media" - a clear reference to the US pulling funding from the WHO.

"I do want to say that on behalf of ourselves in South Africa, we have full confidence both in the WHO and the director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus," he said.

"We believe that their leadership has been fairly helpful. They have been sensitive. They've also managed this issue of the pandemic in an exemplary way that we believe has been able to give us guidance in the right time.

"We've actually been in touch with them on a continuous basis, getting a lot of support and ... a lot of guidance.

"We've had a number of instances where we created webinars, where we're getting experiences from the countries that have managed to deal heavily with the pandemic. So we do believe that their leadership is actually quite good leadership and we have confidence in them."

The African Union (AU) - chaired by SA President Cyril Ramaphosa - has also backed Ghebreyesus in the face of Trump's criticism.

The South African government also expressed its concern at Trump’s announcement- and has urged that country to reconsider its decision.

In a statement issued on Wednesday night, the government said it was "very concerned and alarmed" by Trump’s announcement, particularly because it was made amid a global health crisis that required the full capacity of the WHO.

"It is alarming that this very regrettable decision is announced as this deadly virus strikes Africa and the poorest and most vulnerable states," said Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco).

"The WHO, as a lead UN agency, is mandated to promote health and to ensure universal health coverage globally, and is tasked to lead global efforts to suppress the transmission and stop the Covid-19 pandemic. It is the sole global health agency, with the core focus on universal healthcare. As such, its efforts to coordinate a genuinely global response against this scourge should be recognised and supported."

With Covid-19 cases escalating at a rapid pace by the day, the announcement by the US to cut its funding to the WHO will have a significantly adverse impact on its programmes, and the world's ability to fight and eliminate this pandemic, said Monyela.

He said South Africa believes that now more than ever, the WHO deserves increased support from member states in particular to bolster its efforts to suppress transmission and stop the pandemic.

"We are hopeful that the government of the United States will reconsider its decision and rejoin the international community in fighting this pandemic," he said.

Trump announced on Tuesday that the US was suspending its funding to the WHO, accusing the international body of "severely mismanaging and covering up" the threat posed by the coronavirus.

The US is the WHO’s biggest donor, contributing over $400m (R7.48bn) a year in both assessed contributions (membership fees) and donations.

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