With U.S. support in doubt, WHO chief praises top donor Germany

·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: The WHO logo is pictured in Geneva

By Emma Farge and Francesco Guarascio

GENEVA (Reuters) -The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that Germany had become its largest donor as data from the U.N. agency showed it looked set to surpass former top contributor Washington for the latest funding period.

The remarks come as the WHO's executive board begins a week-long meeting where a financing proposal to make the U.N. health body more independent is being resisted by the United States https://www.reuters.com/world/us/exclusive-us-opposes-plans-strengthen-world-health-organization-2022-01-21, raising doubts about the Biden administration's long-term support for the agency.

The trend was confirmed by emerging WHO data for the 2020-21 funding period, reviewed by Reuters, but which is yet to be finalised by the agency.

"As you all know, Germany has been an important friend and longstanding partner to WHO and in fact it is now WHO's largest donor," said director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking alongside German Development Minister Svenja Schulze.

Germany is this year's president of the Group of Seven major economies, and Schulze said its top priority was to end the COVID-19 pandemic. She called for a "massively accelerated, truly global vaccination campaign".

Tedros praised Germany's commitment to vaccine sharing, as well as its "visionary approach, which is rooted in partnership, solidarity and multilateralism." Berlin is one of 28 countries that is backing Tedros' bid for a second term as head of the U.N. health agency set to be decided in May.

SET UP FOR FAILURE?

WHO data up to the end of November 2021 showed Germany topping the table of member states' combined mandatory and voluntary contributions for its latest two-year funding cycle 2020-2021, followed by the United States and Britain.

The data on membership contributions showed Germany had given $1.235 billion in total versus around $660,000 from the United States in the same period. In comparison, the United States was the top contributor for the 2018/19 period when it gave $853 million, the WHO website showed. https://www.who.int/about/funding/contributors

A WHO official said the data should be complete next week.

Washington remains the top contributor of mandatory funds.

A German source with knowledge of the funding flows said that high voluntary contributions over the past two years had boosted it to the top spot gradually over two years.

Supporters say the WHO's current reliance on voluntary funding from member states and from charities forces it to focus on priorities set by the funders, and makes it less able to criticise members when things go wrong.

A proposal published by the WHO's working group on sustainable financing calls for members' mandatory contributions to rise gradually to account for half the agency's $2 billion core budget by 2028, from less than 20% now.

The idea is set to be discussed by WHO member states on Tuesday. A letter https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vQ3wsjZF_1F3Z7F4iCf_-oV-xP9APUEHpRgbJQv1P9aajCUpYUvfirMOiqITMiDqOklu2gEcl-NqcXj/pub sent to the WHO board on behalf of 52 civil society groups called it an "historic opportunity" to adapt the financing model to end the pandemic and prevent new ones.

In a speech to the board, Tedros called for a "paradigm change" in WHO funding.

"Let me put it plainly: if the current funding model continues, WHO is being set up to fail," he said.

(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Paul Carrel in Geneva and Mrinalika Roy in BangaloreEditing by Gareth Jones and Aurora Ellis)

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