Pompeo warns U.S. may never restore WHO funding

Pompeo warns U.S. may never restore WHO funding

WASHINGTON, April 23 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said a fundamental reform of the World Health Organization is needed following its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and that the United States, WHO's biggest donor, may never restore funding to the U.N. body.

"I think we need to take a real hard look at the WHO and what we do coming out of this," Pompeo told Fox News late on Wednesday.

"We reformed this back in 2007, so this isn't the first time we've had to deal with the shortcomings of this organization that sits inside the United Nations," he said. "We need a fix. We need a structural fix with the WHO."

President Donald Trump suspended U.S. funding of WHO last week, accusing it of being "China-centric and promoting China's "disinformation" about the outbreak. WHO officials have denied this and China insists it has been transparent and open.

The United States has been the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing over $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget. Senior U.S. officials last week told Reuters Washington could redirect these funds to other aid groups.

Pompeo, asked if he was not ruling out a change in leadership of the WHO, replied: "Even more than that, it may be the case that the United States can never return to underwriting, having U.S. taxpayer dollars go to the WHO. We may need to have even bolder change than that."

On Wednesday, Pompeo said the United States "strongly believed" Beijing had failed to report the outbreak in a timely manner, in breach of World Health Organization rules, and had failed to report human-to-human transmission of the virus" for a month until it was in every province inside of China."

Pompeo said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom did not use his ability "to go public" when a member state failed to follow the rules. He said the WHO had an obligation to ensure safety standards were observed in virology labs in Wuhan, the epicenter of China's initial coronavirus outbreak, and its director-general had "enormous authority with respect to nations that do not comply.

The acting head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said on Wednesday the United States would assess if the WHO was being run properly and look for alternative partners outside the body.

The outbreak of the new coronavirus began late last year in China and has become a global pandemic. According to a Reuters tally, the disease has killed more than 180,000 people globally, including nearly 48,000 in the United States, making it the worst-hit country by official statistics. (Editing by Bernadette Baum)