US President Donald Trump has said he is going to halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) because it has “failed in its basic duty” in its response to the coronavirus outbreak.
He accused the UN agency of mismanaging and covering up the spread of the virus after it emerged in China, and said it must be held accountable.
In response, the UN chief said it was “not the time” to cut funds to the WHO.
Mr Trump has been under fire for his own handling of the pandemic.
He has sought to deflect persistent criticism that he acted too slowly to stop the virus’s spread by pointing to his decision in late January to place restrictions on travel from China.
He has accused the WHO of having “criticised” that decision and of being biased towards China more generally.
“I am directing my administration to halt funding while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Mr Trump told a news conference at the White House on Tuesday.
The WHO is yet to directly respond but UN Secretary General António Guterres said the international community should be uniting “in solidarity to stop this virus”.
“It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against Covid-19,” he said.
What is the WHO and who funds it?
The WHO was founded in 1948 and has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. It is the UN agency responsible for global public health, with 194 member states, and aims to “promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable”.
Its funding is made up of membership fees – which are known as “assessed contributions” and calculated based on wealth and population – and voluntary contributions.
The US is the WHO’s biggest single funder, providing $400m (£316m) in 2018-19 – just under 15% of its total budget.
China’s contribution in 2018-19 was almost $76m in assessed contributions and about $10m in voluntary funding, according to the WHO website.
The second-largest funder is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provides 9.76% of the WHO’s funds. The UK gives the most of any country apart from the US.
The organisation launched an appeal in March for $675m to help fight the coronavirus pandemic and is reported to be planning a fresh appeal for at least $1bn.
Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder and philanthropist, said on Twitter: “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds.”