WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump said he is severing ties with the World Health Organization (WHO) over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as the death toll from the disease spiked again in the US and Brazil.
Trump’s move signals an end to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the United Nations (UN) agency just when it needs it most, with outbreaks in many parts of the world yet to reach their peak.
Countries in Latin America are bracing for difficult weeks ahead, especially Brazil, where the death toll shot up by 1,124 on Friday and there was a record number of new infections.
Trump initially suspended funding to the WHO last month, accusing it of not doing enough to curb the early spread of the virus and being too lenient with China, where the virus emerged late last year.
On Friday he made that decision permanent in a major blow for the agency’s finances, as the US is by far its biggest contributor, pumping in USD400 million last year.
“Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the WHO,” Trump told reporters.
The Republican leader said the US would be redirecting WHO funds “to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs”.
“The world needs answers from China on the virus. We must have transparency,” Trump said.
Beijing furiously denied US allegations that it played down or even covered up the threat from the virus after it was detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December, insisting it has been forthcoming.
The pandemic has since claimed almost 364,000 lives globally and the number of cases is nearing six million.
Populations are now learning to adjust to life with the long-term threat of infection as the virus continues its march around the globe and a vaccine remains elusive.
As the disease spreads across South America, the poor have been hit hard in countries like Brazil, which now has the second highest number of cases in the world after the US.
Lockdowns interrupted the meagre services many depend on, such as school lunches for hungry children and water deliveries.
“In 26 years, I’ve never seen so many people living in fear, so many people going hungry,” said founder of charity Amigos do Bem, Alcione Albanesi, which distributes supplies to communities in the impoverished Sertao region of Brazil’s northeast.
“Everything has ground to a stop. But hunger doesn’t stop.”
Chile also logged another record number of deaths on Friday, pushing its total to almost 1,000.
The surge in the Americas comes as the number of infections continues to fall in much of Europe, which is pressing on down the path to re-opening after months of crippling lockdowns.