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Russian FM defends WHO response as Trump continues threats

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed Russia's position on the conflict between the US and China in the dispute over the spread of Coronovirus pandemic, in his interview with RBC media on May 15.

Published: May 19, 2020, 10:00 am

    Moscow

    He confirmed that a Russian health expert was part of the fact-finding mission to Wuhan after news of the spread of the disease became public.

    Lavrov said it was inappropriate to say that either the WHO or China did not alert other countries about the novel Coronavirus and that WHO or Chinese officials were concealing information. “It was an unprecedented situation,” Lavrov added.

    He said the overwhelming majority of WHO Secretariat employees were from countries which are currently the strongest critics of the organisation. At least 30 percent of the epidemic and health care representatives – out of some 2 100 experts – at the world body come from Western countries.

    In fact, most Western countries have more representatives at the WHO than their quotas allow for, Lavrov pointed out. Canada and Australia alone have around 60 representatives each while China has fewer than 40 and Russia only has 20.

    He singled out the US, France, Britain, Australia, Italy, Ireland and Spain as having the most influence.

    “Even if China had a malicious plan to use the WHO for its narrow interests, how can 40 people do this if they are confronted by 700?” Lavrov said. On top of that these representatives are united in common NATO and EU structures, Russia’s top diplomat pointed out.

    Lavrov suggested that attacks against the WHO were being done for electoral advantage in the US. American President Donald Trump has specifically called for “essential changes” at the WHO but he remains vague about what it would entail.

    If the WHO does not commit to “major improvements” within the next 30 days, he will finally cease US payments to the organization and rethink US membership in the organization, Trump said in a letter to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

    Trump already temporarily suspended US payments to the WHO a month ago, thereby attracting international criticism. He has described the Geneva-based UN agency as the “puppet” of China. But Trump shares the responsibility for the large number of deaths in the crisis.

    The WHO’s mismanagement and reliance on information from China has dramatically worsened the epidemic and spread it globally, according to Trump.

    But in this crisis, in which more than 90 000 people in the United States have died from a Corona infection, the president himself is coming under severe pressure.

    The WHO is the United Nations’ main health agency. Their budget is mainly based on donations and less than a quarter of mandatory contributions from the member states. The United States is the largest payer in this group: almost $116 million is due for 2020 and 2021, respectively.

    China’s contribution for these two years is around $57 million each. In addition, there are voluntary contributions, which in the case of the United States totaled more than $656 million in 2018 and 2019, according to the WHO. China raised only around $10 million.

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