Fight against COVID-19 may crumble as US withdraws funds from WHO: health interventions

Health Workers Kick As FG Yet To Keep Promise On Review Of Allowance, Insurance
Health care interventions and efforts to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria and indeed Africa, might crumble if the United States President, Donald Trump, withdraws funds from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This is just as medical doctors and other health workers in Nigeria are worried that over four weeks after, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration was yet to keep its promise to review upwards their paltry N500 hazard allowance and establish comprehensive life insurance for at least 5,000 health workers.

The federal government, represented by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the tripartite unions of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and National Association
of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) on the issue.

WHO spearheads technical inputs and funding of most healthcare interventions in Nigeria, including diseases surveillance systems,
mass immunisation activities against childhood killer diseases such as polio, meningitis, measles, cholera, among others, the novel
coronavirus (COVID-19), as well health system strengthening and trainings of medics in the country.

Available figures indicate that the US is the biggest funder of the UN agency and has since 2010, made available to it about $3.5billion
by way of funding. In 2019 alone, WHO received over $450million from the US.

But Trump, on Tuesday, threatened to permanently pull funding from the WHO and consider a US exit from the health agency if it does not commit to “major substantive improvements” within 30 days.

The implications of US pulling out from funding the WHO on healthcare delivery in the country and on efforts in containing COVID-19 could be dire.

To a virologist/vaccinologist and Chief Executive Officer of Innovative Biotech in Keffi, Nasarawa State and the US, Dr. Simon Agwale: “The impact will be very serious for Africa, because most of our programmes are supported by the WHO, including our vaccination programme that is already complicated by COVID-19 and disease surveillance systems.”

Amichi Magazine gathered that, For over a month now, Trump has suspended funding for the WHO. The withdrawal of the funding from US undoubtedly would affect the activities of the organisation and hence global health, as already shown by the funding gap announced by the WHO director general during one of his media briefings.

“But then, the organisation will find a way to continue to survive.”

Director General of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) Yaba, Lagos, Prof. Babatunde Salako, said: “The implication of that is obvious; the WHO may have challenges in meeting its financial obligations, especially towards the poor nations of the world. And for
this pandemic, African nations may bear the brunt of the fallout of this conflict.”

Pioneer director general of the Nigerian Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Prof. Charles Wambebe, said: “In practical terms, nothing will happen on the WHO side, because it will continue to carry out its functions.

“Furthermore, other donors will replace funds cut off by Trump. But on the part of Trump, it is a political tool to show his core supporters that he is tough.”

A clinical pharmacist, public health analyst and National Chairman, Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria (AHAPN), Dr. Kingsley Chiedu Amibor, said: “I think it is most unfortunate that the US, which is a major source of funding to the WHO, is contemplating permanent withdrawal of funding and membership of the global health body.”

Amibor said the WHO, on its part, has been able to justify the funds received from the US, with interventionist health programmes that have
benefited African and third world countries, including Nigeria and other nations of the world, adding that some of such programmes include control of the neglected tropical diseases, such as leishmaniasis, which affects mostly the world’s poorest, and if the US carries out its threat, it means some of these diseases would be further neglected by various governments, especially in Africa.

The AHAPN president further explained: “Secondly, a good number of countries in Africa are dependent on aid from WHO for the fight against COVID-19 in the form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as facemasks, goggles, hand gloves and others. So, if the US finally makes good its threat, then it is going to be a big blow for the global efforts to eradicate the virus and seriously undermine control efforts. Don’t forget that WHO is equally involved in funding research for a vaccine for COVID-19.

“One can understand the thinking of the Trump administration right now, you know the US values the lives of her citizens a lot and for her to lose over 8,000 of her nationals, with over one million others infected with the deadly virus is very devastating to her.

“In the opinion of the administration, all these suffering and deaths could have been averted if China had been transparent in her handling of information on COVID-19, especially at the initial phase of the pandemic. US feels the WHO did not do enough to warn the rest of the world early enough about the vicious and highly contagious epidemic playing out in China between late last year and early this year.”

President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, added: “I think it is going to be temporary. I don’t think a President has the power; another President can change it or people will go to court. They have a process that will not allow the position to stay.

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