- President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he would freeze funding to the World Health Organization for 60-90 days as his administration looks into the agency.
- The move comes after Trump announced he would consider cutting the agency’s funds last week.
- Trump has criticized the W.H.O. for being “China-centric,” a criticism it has also faced from other Republican lawmakers over the course of the pandemic.
- A total halt on contributions from the U.S. could run deep, as it makes up nearly 15% of the W.H.O.’s funding.
Trump Freezes Funding to the W.H.O.
Exactly one week after announcing that he was considering cutting United States funding to the World Health Organization, President Donald Trump moved to do just that Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump said from the White House. “Everybody knows what’s going on there.”
During his press conference, Trump also repeated his stance that the W.H.O. took China’s claims about the coronavirus “at face value.”
“One of the most dangerous and costly decisions from the WHO was its disastrous decision to oppose travel restrictions from China and other nations,” Trump said.
“They were very much opposed to what we did. Fortunately, I was not convinced and suspended travel from China, saving untold numbers of lives. Thousands and thousands of people would have died. Had other nations likewise suspended travel from China, countless more lives would have been saved.”
Trump went on to say that the freeze to W.H.O. funding would continue for 60 to 90 days. A potential two to three-month freeze is notable because as many people have pointed out, the U.S. and the world are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Fighting a global pandemic requires international cooperation and reliance on science and data,” Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, said. “Cutting funding to the WHO – rather than focusing on solutions – is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world.”
On behalf of the AMA, Harris went on to urge Trump to reconsider this decision.
The secretary general of the United Nations said Tuesday night that while “it is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities,” the W.H.O.“must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19.”
Early Wednesday morning, billionaire Bill Gates tweeted, “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.”
After the U.S.—which contributes to nearly 15% of the W.H.O.’s funding—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the W.H.O.’s next-biggest contributor. According to the W.H.O., the Gates’ charity makes up almost 10% of its funding.
Still, a reduction of 15% of its funding would mean a deep cut for the international health agency. Currently, the U.S. has committed $893 million during the W.H.O.’s current two-year funding period. According to international security professor Adam Kamradt-Scott at the University of Sydney, if the U.S. were to pull both member dues and voluntary contributions, that could end up bankrupting the W.H.O.
Will the W.H.O. See U.S. Funding Again?
One of the major unanswered questions regarding Trump’s decision is whether or not the W.H.O. might get that funding back and how long it could take.
According to Evan Hollander, a spokesperson for House Appropriations Committee Democrats, “The President does not have the unilateral authority to withhold the United States’ contribution to the World Health Organization. Even if he did, refusing to fund the WHO would only weaken the international tools to fight this pandemic and future global health emergencies.”
On that note, it’s unclear when payments to the W.H.O. will stop and how much authority Trump even has to suspend them. That’s because they’re actually authorized by Congress, and Congress has already ignored his administration’s proposal to slash W.H.O. funding in recent years.
Still, Trump may likely see a surge of support from his party. Senator Rick Scott (R-Fl.) has repeatedly pushed Congress to investigate the W.H.O’s response to COVID-19 and its relationship with China. Both he and Senator Martha McSally (R-Az.) have called for the W.H.O. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to step down.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC.) has also pledged to support a W.H.O. funding cut in the Senate’s next appropriations bill.
Why Is Trump Defunding the W.H.O.?
Over the last week, Trump has repeatedly accused the W.H.O., an agency of the United Nations, of being “China-centric,” this seemingly for two main reasons.
The first is because on January 14, the W.H.O. referenced a preliminary investigation from Chinese authorities who said there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus.” Notably, health officials now know that not to be true.
The second has to do with Trump’s decision to restrict travel with China, a decision made at the end of January.
At that time, the W.H.O.—though not directly referencing the United States—said it did not recommend limiting trade and travel with China.
“In fact, we oppose it,” Ghebreyesus said.
“In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions,” the agency added.
On Feb. 11, the W.H.O. did revise its travel restriction recommendations somewhat by saying that such restrictions “…may have a public health rationale at the beginning of the containment phase of an outbreak, as they may allow affected countries to implement sustained response measures, and non-affected countries to gain time to initiate and implement effective preparedness measures. Such restrictions, however, need to be short in duration, proportionate to the public health risks, and be reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves.”
During this time and even up until late February, Trump had actually been praising the W.H.O., saying it had been working “very hard and very smart.”
Trump’s shift in tone, however, came last week when he seemingly announced he would be freezing W.H.O. funding, though he later backtracked when talking to reporters, saying he was only looking at freezing it.
“They actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it,” Trump said, “and they were wrong. They’ve been wrong about a lot of things. They had a lot of information very early and they didn’t to want to — they seemed to be very “China-centric.”
“They called it wrong,” he added. “They called it wrong. They really, they missed the call. They could have called it months earlier. They would have known, and should have known, and they probably did know.”
Following that, the W.H.O. defended itself and its relationship with China, Ghebreyesus’ senior adviser Bruce Aylward saying, “It was absolutely critical in the early part of this outbreak to have full access to everything possible, to get on the ground and work with the Chinese to understand this.”
“This is what we did with every other hard hit country like Spain and had nothing to do with China specifically,” he added.
Aylward also defended the W.H.O.’s January recommendation to keep borders open, saying that Beijing had worked hard to identify and detect early cases and their contacts, ensuring they didn’t travel.
Since Trump’s move Tuesday to suspend W.H.O. funding, China has also criticized the president, a foreign ministry spokesperson saying, “This U.S. decision will weaken the WHO’s capabilities and undermine international cooperation. China will as always support the WHO in playing an important role in international public health and global anti-epidemic response.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Bloomberg)
Inmates Sue Jail for Giving Them Ivermectin to Treat COVID-19 Without Consent
Four detainees who filed the suit allege that the jail’s doctor gave them “incredibly high doses” of the anti-parasite in a “cocktail of drugs” that he said were “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”
Washington County Detention Center Lawsuit
Four inmates at an Arkansas jail have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were unknowingly given the anti-parasite drug ivermectin without their consent by the detention center’s doctor after contracting COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and countless other medical experts have said that ivermectin — commonly used for livestock — can be dangerous and should not be used to treat the coronavirus.
According to the lawsuit, after testing positive for COVID in August, the four men at the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC) were given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by the facility’s doctor, Robert Karas.
The inmates claim that Dr. Karas did not tell them that he was giving them ivermectin, but instead said the drugs consisted of “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”
The complaint also alleges that the detainees were given “incredibly high doses” of the drug, causing some to experience “vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools, and/or stomach cramps.”
Use on Other Inmates
The four plaintiffs were far from the only people to whom Karas gave ivermectin.
According to the lawsuit, the doctor began using the drug to treat COVID starting in November of 2020. In August, the Washington County sheriff confirmed at a local finance and budget committee meeting that the doctor had been prescribing the drug to inmates, prompting the Arkansas Medical Board to launch an investigation.
In response, Karas informed a Medical Board investigator in a letter from his attorney that 254 inmates at the facility had been treated with ivermectin.
In the letter, he confirmed that whether or not detainees were given information about ivermectin was dependent on who administered it, but paramedics were not required to discuss the drug with them.
He also admitted that after the practice got media coverage, he “adopted a more robust informed consent form to assuage any concern that any detainees were being misled or coerced into taking the medications, even though they weren’t.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed the suit on behalf of the inmates, also claimed in a statement that after questions were raised about the practice, the jail attempted to make detainees sign forms saying that they retroactively agreed to the treatments.
The WCDC has not issued a public response to the lawsuits, but Dr. Karas appeared to address the situation in a Facebook post where he defended his actions.
“Guess we made the news again this week; still with best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols,” he wrote. “Inmates aren’t dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suiing their facilities requesting same treatment we’re using at WCDC-including the Ivermectin.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (NBC News)
Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan
The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”
Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify
A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.
Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts.
Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”
“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”
Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation
Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.
“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote.
“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”
Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”
“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”
Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.
See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)
Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.
In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.
New Cases Flattening
After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.
Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days.
New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.
Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.
Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.
According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.
In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.
Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit.
While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country.
Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.