Germany and France shore up support for WHO, seek 'global answer' to Covid-19

French Health Minister Olivier Véran speaks to reporters at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on June 25, 2020, flanked by his German counterpart Jens Spahn (left) and the agency's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
French Health Minister Olivier Véran speaks to reporters at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on June 25, 2020, flanked by his German counterpart Jens Spahn (left) and the agency's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. © Fabrice Coffrini, AFP

Germany and France expressed political and financial backing for the World Health Organization in its fight against the coronavirus on Thursday, with Berlin saying it would give a record half a billion euros in funding and equipment this year – while also calling for reform of the embattled agency.

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WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the agency, criticised by the United States for being slow off the mark in tackling the pandemic, was getting the support it needed and that talks with members states had been "very productive".

"We are getting today all the support we need, politically and financially. Both Germany and France are long-standing friends of WHO and global health," Tedros told a news conference at WHO headquarters.

US President Donald Trump said last month that the United States was cutting ties with the "China-centric" WHO, but he has still not formally notified the UN agency.

The United States is the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15 percent of its budget.

"Isolated national answers to international problems are doomed to fail," German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

He announced additional donations of funds and medical equipment to WHO that would bring Germany's total support to €500 million ($561 million) this year, the "highest amount ever", as it assumes the EU presidency.

"We need a strong, efficient, transparent and accountable WHO today more than ever," Spahn said, though warning that continued support was conditional on reform of the multi-national body.

"Germany will do its part to give the WHO the political, financial and technical backing that is needed. This comes with the expectation that remaining challenges are adequately addressed and needed reforms are pushed forward," he added.

WHO needed 'more than ever'

France said it would give €90 million to a WHO research centre in Lyon as well as an additional contribution of €50 million.

"The French contribution is not aimed to replace the US contribution," French Health Minister Olivier Véran said. "The French contribution is there to remind the World Health Organization that it can count on the friendship of the European Union."

Véran added: "I truly believe the world needs, more than ever, a multilateral organisation. I believe the world cannot get rid of partners. We need a global answer [to Covid-19] and only the WHO can provide that answer."

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

More than 9.47 million people have been reported to have been infected by the coronavirus globally and 482,389​ have died so far, according to a Reuters tally.

"The situation in Western Europe is improving. Of course, in the rest of world the pandemic is on the increase," Tedros said.

European governments are working with the United States on plans to overhaul the WHO, a top European health official said last week, signalling that Europe shares some of the concerns that led Washington to say it would quit.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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