In a letter to WHO’s director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, dated Monday, Trump sought to justify the sudden halt of U.S. funding to the public health organization ordered last month by outlining what he claimed were more than a dozen “missteps” by WHO in the earliest weeks and months of the crisis.
He erred where he mentioned The Lancet.
“The World Health Organization consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from the Lancet medical journal,” read Trump’s letter.
“This statement is factually incorrect,” the journal responded on Tuesday morning.
The Lancet’s first article warning about the effects of the new coronavirus was published on Jan. 24, the journal said. It described what doctors and researchers had observed about 41 early cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Trump’s phrasing suggested that WHO was ignoring credible reports in The Lancet as far back as December ― reports that did not exist.
But the journal also took issue with the president’s argument overall.
“The allegations levelled against WHO in President Trump’s letter are serious and damaging to efforts to strengthen international cooperation to control this pandemic. It is essential that any review of the global response is based on a factually accurate account of what took place in December and January,” The Lancet said.
The U.S. federal government has been excoriated by critics for its slow response to the virus, which has so far claimed nearly 100,000 American lives. Trump himself called accusations that his administration wasn’t moving fast enough a “new hoax” from the Democrats in the earliest days of the crisis, despite reported warnings from U.S. health experts at WHO.
In April, public health experts condemned Trump’s decision to halt funding to the organization as he looked to deflect blame from his administration. The president said on Saturday that he was considering restoring a small fraction of that funding ― around 10% of what the U.S. was otherwise expected to contribute ― but he did not mention any such plan in Monday’s letter, which threatened to cut off funding permanently unless WHO commits to “major substantive improvements within the next 30 days.” He did not say what those changes might look like.
The United States is WHO’s largest contributor. In the current pandemic, the global organization needs funding more than ever.
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