Deep concern for Africa after Trump stops WHO funding

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US President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, on Wednesday (April 15 2020) in Washington. Picture: Alex Brandon/AP
US President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, on Wednesday (April 15 2020) in Washington. Picture: Alex Brandon/AP

US President Donald Trump’s decision to halt funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) could have a significant impact on Africa’s public health efforts when it comes to polio, malaria and HIV outreach.

This is according to Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, who said that, while Trump’s move was a massive blow to the WHO’s budget – particularly as it works to guide countries during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic – Africa would most likely feel the effects of the reduction in funding.

Moeti was speaking during an online briefing held on Thursday afternoon with experts from the WHO, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the World Economic Forum.

The US was the WHO’s biggest donor, contributing $400 million (R7.4 billion) a year to the organisation.

Earlier this week, Trump said funding would be placed on hold for 60 to 90 days pending a review of the WHO’s warnings about Covid-19.

Moeti said that the WHO’s budget for the Covid-19 response was about $300 million for about six months to support what its member countries were doing.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, we have 47 countries. Each country office has a plan on how they will work with that government locally, as well as a regional office team. This has been a blow, however, to the global WHO’s budget, and our colleagues are working at a global level with different partners and donors to see what resources are coming in,” she said.

“More broadly, the WHO is a member state organisation and the US is the number one contributor to our budget. In the past year, we [African region] had a contribution in voluntary funds of $151 million and we’ve already received almost $50 million from the US this year, so the impact of this decision will potentially be quite significant in areas such as polio eradication.

We are close to having a declaration of polio eradication in Africa and the US was one of the biggest supporters of that and other priority programme areas, such as malaria, HIV and work on strengthening health systems.”

Moeti said they hoped Trump’s decision would be “rethought” because “the US government is an important partner financially and strategically because we work with a number of institutions in the US and they are involved in the WHO’s strategy making and planning”.

We think what South Africa has done may be starting to having an effect and we need to continue monitoring the situation.
Matshidiso Moeti

Moeti also touched on South Africa’s Covid-19 response.

According to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s briefing on Wednesday night, the country has 2 506 cases of Covid-19 and 34 deaths, with more than 90 500 tests conducted.

“South Africa had one of the earliest capacities to test initially. In fact, they were supporting and confirming the neighbouring countries’ tests as they were establishing their capacity.

South Africa has also done strong work in contact tracing and has adopted physical distancing measures, prohibited social gatherings, and has asked people to stay home and limit the use of transportation,” Moeti said.

“There seems to be a slowing down of the spread of infections, so there is a bend in the curve. I think that’s what we can understand is happening in South Africa. Of course, the context is extremely challenging.

As you know, South Africa is one of the most inequitable countries in the world because of its history [apartheid], so we have areas where this social distancing is feasible and others where it is not, so government has had challenges.”

She added that the lockdown may indeed be working.

“We think what South Africa has done may be starting to having an effect and we need to continue monitoring the situation. We want to acknowledge how they’ve taken a very aggressive case identification and testing at community level strategy. Lockdown measures are difficult, but need to be accompanied by very strong communication.”


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