US President Donald Trump makes his way from the podium after the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 15 2020, in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP/MANDEL NGAN
US President Donald Trump makes his way from the podium after the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 15 2020, in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP/MANDEL NGAN

President Donald Trump’s decision to stop US funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the middle of the coronavirus fight could harm other programmes in Africa and hamper efforts to eradicate polio, says the body’s regional head for the continent.

“The impact potentially of this decision will be quite significant on areas such as polio eradication,” Matshidiso Moeti said at a virtual press conference hosted with the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Thursday.

“We are on the way to having the certification of polio being eradicated from Africa, and the US is one of the biggest supporters of that as well as other priority programmes”, including those on fighting HIV/Aids, malaria and strengthening health systems.

“We are very much hoping that this decision will be rethought,” Moeti said.

Trump is under fire for his decision to halt WHO funding as he seeks re-election in November and struggles to explain his response to a spreading crisis in which the US has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the world.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the WHO on a conference call with Trump and the rest of the G7 leaders on Thursday, saying Covid-19 could be defeated only by a strong and co-ordinated international response. Germany’s foreign minister said that funding for the WHO should be increased.

Trump accused the WHO of being too cosy with China, where the virus originated and officials were accused of trying to suppress information about its spread.

Moeti said the US government was an important partner “not only in financial terms. It’s also an important strategic partner. We work with many of the technical institutions in the US. They are important players in WHO policy-making, strategy-making, and we value the relationship.”

The organisation needed $300m (R5.57bn) for the next six months to support what African countries were doing to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, Moeti said.  

Speaking at the same press conference, Elsie Kanza, head of the WEF in Africa, said it was crucial for creditors to heed the call to provide temporary relief from debt-servicing payments.

“This is essential to free up revenue, which is already cut back due to the loss of export markets, as well as tourism-related revenues, as well as the shock from the drop in oil prices,” she said.

“So it’s really important to free up space in the governments’ budget so that more allocations can be made to get ahead of the health challenge.”

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