APN COVID Report #2 - The effect of defunding the World Health Organization on Israel and Palestine

President Donald Trump has announced that he intends to stop US funding of the World Health Organisation (WHO). This decision has been criticized by many world leaders, who see it as a very dangerous move at such a critical time for global cooperation on health. The US provides around ten percent of the funding for the WHO. The WHO has many different roles, being seen on the ground more in developing nations. It also plays a vital role in advice and cooperation for all health systems. This advice has been more important than ever in the face of COVID-19.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not joined other world leaders in condemning this decision, presumably to keep Trump on-side, but the decision is dangerous for both Palestinians and Israelis. Over fifty percent of the funding that flows to the WHO from the United States goes to either WHO Headquarters, responsible for the coordination of COVID-19 response and advice, or the Eastern Mediterranean Office, responsible, among others, for the Palestinian Territories. Israeli health officials praised a meeting facilitated by the WHO at the end of February between 15 member states to discuss approaches to COVID-19. This is an example of how important the WHO has been to Israel from the beginning of this crisis in facilitating the exchange of expertise on the virus.

In the Palestinian Territories, the WHO has played a major role in the COVID-19 response. The organization has been involved in tracking cases, providing test kits (especially in the Gaza Strip), assisting with quarantine facilities, provision of personal protective equipment and community education on the disease. Although there is certainly more that could be done, especially on testing, the WHO is demonstrably and effectively providing assisting in essential work. Trump further tightening these constraints will make understanding and responding to the virus more difficult. This could have terrible consequences for Palestinians, making an uncontrolled outbreak even more likely and this, in turn, could fuel further outbreaks in Israel. 

The work of the WHO is crucial in this time for every country in the world and this includes Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Although it may feel like countries are becoming more insular, with travel bans and much non-COVID foreign policy put on hold, this is not the case. International cooperation is as imperative now as ever before and the World Health Organisation is perhaps the most important medium for that cooperation. Therefore, we must all call on the President to reconsider this decision, which puts Israelis, Palestinians and all people at risk. 

This update was written by APN intern Thomas Sweeney

 


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