President Donald Trump’s move to suspend funding for the World Health Organization complicates the global fight against a pandemic that’s shown no regard for borders.

The rapid spread of the virus has fueled criticism of the United Nations agency that coordinates countries’ strategies for countering such outbreaks. Yet Trump’s direct attack on the WHO will undermine the organization’s ability to do its job, experts say, while making it harder to reach international consensus on any reforms.

“I think we’re all reeling a bit,” said Robert Yates, executive director of the Centre for Universal Health at Chatham House, a London-based think tank. “We are in a state of shock that President Trump could do something as ridiculous as this at this time.”

The president has blasted the WHO for being too deferential to China, saying it has taken the country’s claims about the coronavirus “at face value” and failed to share information about the pathogen as it spread.

Trump’s attack is intended to deflect attention from his own shortcomings in tackling the crisis, according to Yates. “Trump himself was tweeting support to China in mid-January, taking their information at face value,” he said. “Everyone knows full well that the U.S. has other sources of information on China than the WHO.”

Trump’s Support
With an annual budget of $2.2 billion in 2018, the agency is already underfunded, Yates said. The U.K. has committed an additional 65 million pounds ($81 million) to the organization.

The UN agency performs tasks like sending fact-finding missions to countries to evaluate their responses to outbreaks, sharing information like the virus’s genome and helping poor countries prepare. It’s also coordinating international trials of experimental treatments including hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug Trump has backed against the virus.

Rather than firing back as Trump has sharpened his jabs at the WHO, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has commended the president for his handling of the crisis, including a tweet on March 24 that said he was doing a great job. Other officials at the agency have echoed his tone.

The U.S., the WHO’s largest donor, has been “extraordinarily generous,” spokeswoman Margaret Harris said Tuesday at a briefing in Geneva. “The U.S. is a fantastic partner in terms of expertise, in terms of support for every kind of emergency and aspect of the work we do.”

Working Together
The WHO, which has a regular briefing scheduled for Wednesday, hasn’t responded to the latest broadside by Trump. Tedros did say earlier this month, however, that the U.S. and China should work together to show “honest leadership” or risk transforming the pandemic into a bigger crisis.

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