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The World Health Organisation has so far received US$724 million in donations for its coronavirus response. Photo: Reuters

US beats China in coronavirus funding to WHO, despite threats to withdraw

  • United States is eighth-largest donor to pandemic fighting fund while China’s contributions put it in tenth place
  • Britain surprises as largest contributor with public and corporate donations a close second
The United States has so far contributed more than China to the World Health Organisation’s coronavirus response, despite its threats to withdraw from the international body over alleged missteps in the early stages of the pandemic.

A progress report by the WHO showed that 58 countries and entities had donated US$724 million as of June 30. China was in tenth place with a contribution of US$25 million, behind Kuwait, Japan and the US – which gave US$34 million to put it at number eight.

Britain was the world’s biggest donor, contributing US$108 million. Charities and institutions also gave big, with the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund – set up to receive donations from corporations and the general public – at second place with close to US$104 million. Fifth-highest in the donations table was the World Bank, which contributed US$58 million.

In its report, the WHO said it was especially grateful for donations of fully flexible funding which allowed it to direct resources to where they were most needed. Funds went towards the agency’s country and regional offices to buy and distribute essential supplies, it said.

As the pandemic continues to spread, the WHO has estimated it will need an additional US$1 billion up to the end of the year to continue its response – a significant challenge given the impact of the coronavirus on economies around the world.

Adding to the challenge is the US threat to withdraw from the agency. US President Donald Trump halted funding to the WHO in April for a 60 to 90-day “evaluation period” after claims by Republican senators that the agency had helped Beijing “cover up” the extent of the threat from the new disease.

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The US is the biggest contributor to the WHO’s regular funding, giving US$893 million in 2018 and 2019 – around 15 per cent of the agency’s total budget. Its withdrawal would have a significant impact and it is unclear that China would step in to fill the gap.

Beijing pledged US$50 million to the WHO’s pandemic response in April, but only half of that has so far been received. In May, Chinese President Xi Jinping offered US $2 billion over two years to help countries fight the virus, although he did not specify how the money would be allocated.

When asked about China’s pledges, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China would keep its promises.

Dr Huang Yanzhong, a global health governance expert from Seton Hall University in the US, said China’s US$2 billion offer should be taken “with a grain of salt”.


Donald Trump says the US is ‘terminating its relationship with the World Health Organisation’

Donald Trump says the US is ‘terminating its relationship with the World Health Organisation’

Although Beijing had increased its participation in international agencies such as the WHO, it traditionally preferred bilateral mechanisms to deliver health-related development help, he said, and its pledges should be carefully assessed.

Huang, who wrote a paper on China’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, said some of its US$123 million contribution to that effort was made up of “in-kind” support. This had included ambulances and medical equipment as well as food, aid, two biosecurity labs and treatment centres.

However, this paled compared to other countries’ contributions to the Ebola fight. The US built 12 labs, while Canada constructed 16. In terms of global humanitarian funding, China contributed US$47 million in 2014, around 1.3 per cent of the world’s total. In contrast, the US contribution was close to US$1.8 billion – almost half.

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“Like in the case of Ebola, there was in-kind support including ambulances and pickup trucks. China might pledge, say, US$100 million, but it could include everything,” Huang said. “Even with the US withdrawal from the WHO, it might be still unrealistic to expect China to occupy the void left by the US.”


Britain, the second largest contributor to the WHO’s general funding, appeared to have assumed some of the responsibility for strengthening the agency’s coronavirus fighting fund. Its US$108 million donation was more than 50 per cent higher than the European Commission’s. Britain is in the process of leaving the EU.

“I was quite surprised by that number,” said Dr Mark Eccleston-Turner, a professor of international law at Britain’s Keele University.

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“We've always committed very heavily to the organisation. I think what we're seeing, with us upping in our contributions, is to do with the gap which America withdrawing from the multilateral stage has created. Part of this is the UK trying to fund that gap.”


The WHO has said it is reviewing the impact any withdrawal of US funding may have on its work, and will liaise with partners to fill any financial gaps.

“I’m not that optimistic about the prospect that WHO is going to mobilise sufficient funding for the global response to the pandemic,” Huang said.

“That is not good news for the goal of creating a Covid-free world because as long as there is one country that is still fighting the virus, we cannot claim the world is Covid free.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: US beats China in virus funding to WHO