Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

WHO’s members owe it more than $470 million

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Two countries account for over half the unpaid membership dues at the World Health Organization: As of 31 March, the United States owed $196 million, while China’s outstanding bill stood at $57 million

They’re not alone: 151 members collectively owed $473 million in unpaid dues – about 20 percent of the WHO’s annual budget – and a quarter of it was more than a year late.

But the size of the US and Chinese debts highlight the WHO’s reliance on its largest members.

The WHO’s coffers are nevertheless filling up with extra funding for COVID-19 – it is set to comfortably meet a funding target of $450 million in additional earmarked funds – the pandemic, criticism from the White House, and geo-strategic rivalries have all generated fresh interest in the financing of the global health body. 

The WHO relies on two types of funding: about 20 percent comes from membership dues or “assessed contributions” from its member countries. The rest comes as voluntary payments from member countries, foundations, and the private sector. (Assessed funding has the advantage, for the WHO’s management, of not being tied to specific projects, unlike funds for polio vaccination, Ebola control, or COVID-19.)

The United States is the largest contributor to the WHO’s core budget ($115 million a year). But it pays much more – an average of $450 million per year, according to a WHO fact sheet – as the largest voluntary contributor as well. Prior to suspending its funding for the WHO in reaction to what it alleges as weaknesses in the UN agency’s COVID-19 response, … the United States had paid $316 million in voluntary funding in 2020 before the freeze.

Countries that don’t pay eventually lose the right to vote in the WHO’s assembly. In 2019, Central African Republic, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, South Sudan, The Gambia, Ukraine, and Venezuela were all barred from voting. A state can get back its voting privileges by agreeing to a gradual repayment plan, one example being Somalia whose annual fee is set at the minimum rate: $4,790.

The United States owes 1.7 times its annual obligatory contributions, not enough to pose a risk to its voting rights in 2020.

[The New Humanitarian]

Coronavirus could kill more than 3 million people in vulnerable and poor countries

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The International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian non-governmental organization, said Tuesday in a new report:

  • The coronavirus could infect up to one billion people and kill 3.2 million people in 34 “crisis-affected countries” as the pandemic exacerbates humanitarian crises.
  • “These numbers should serve as a wake-up call: the full, devastating and disproportionate weight of this pandemic has yet to be felt in the world’s most fragile and war-torn countries,” CEO David Miliband said.
  • The IRC warned that some of the countries included, such as Bangladesh, host the largest and most densely populated refugee camps in the world, where the virus could spread even more rapidly. 

“While COVID-19 is a novel virus and much is still unknown, it is clear that its impact in these settings will be different than in the wealthier countries first hit by the pandemic,” the report says.

[Read full CNBC article]

Cuts in American aid deepens misery for Yemen

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Dozens of U.N. programs that assist millions of ­impoverished Yemenis could be shut down by the end of the month largely because of major cuts in U.S. aid, humanitarian officials warn, just as the country has seen its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus.

The warnings come after the Trump administration canceled tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid last month after accusing Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are aligned with Iran, of diverting and disrupting the aid. President Trump then followed that up by withdrawing funding for the World Health Organization, which plays an outsize role in Yemen.

Critics say the U.S. funding cuts are politically motivated and reflect American animosity toward Iran. International aid groups are now urging the administration to restore the funding for Yemen. They argue that the United States has a moral responsibility to help the country because U.S.-supplied fighter jets, bombs and other weapons have been used by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen to destroy scores of hospitals, clinics and other civilian facilities.

After more than five years of war, Yemen has earned the label of the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis with about 80 percent of the population now relying on aid. The war has shattered the health infrastructure. The immune systems of millions of Yemenis have been weakened by widespread hunger and malnutrition, as well as diseases such as cholera, dengue and diphtheria.

“Epidemiologists warn that covid-19 in Yemen could spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences than in many other countries,” Mark Lowcock, the United Nations’ top official for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, told the Security Council. “We are, in other words, running out of time.”

[The Washington Post]

Drones delivering COVID-19 tests in Ghana

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Ghana is the first nation in the world to use drone technology to test for COVID-19, paving the way for drone technology to play a new role in the fight against COVID-19.

Ghana has one of the highest testing rates in Africa, despite having thousands of far-flung rural clinics, and only two places in the entire country where the swabs can be analyzed. Until last week, all the tests had to be transported to the laboratories by road, a journey that can take up to six hours. Some remote clinics, loath to dispatch an ambulance for just one test, would wait a few days in order to collect enough samples to make the trip worthwhile, prolonging patients’ anxiety and delaying the contact tracing protocols necessary to stop the virus’s spread. Now, the whole round-trip journey takes under 30 minutes.

Now, Zipline, an American health care logistics company, is flying samples from difficult-to-reach rural areas into the capital with its fleet of red and white drones. Once collected, either in local clinics or by health workers out in the field, the test swabs are packaged with ice in specially designed bio-safe containers, fitted with a parachute, and placed into the bellies of the drones. The zips, as they are called, won’t actually land at the laboratories. Instead they swoop down to release their payloads at designated drop zones, where attendants, alerted to the pending arrival via SMS, are waiting to collect them. The whole round-trip journey, which could take up most of a day by car, takes under 30 minutes.

Zipline’s fleet in Ghana is equipped to transport up to 15,000 tests a day, in 300 flights, from their two collection points. The company has two other drone ports that could be brought online as well. Further down the line it could start delivering routine medications as well, keeping vulnerable patients with chronic conditions away from hospitals where they risk exposure to the virus.

[TIME]

Coronavirus pandemic will cause global famines of ‘biblical proportions,’ UN warns

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The world is facing multiple famines of “biblical proportions” in just a matter of months, the UN has said, warning that the coronavirus pandemic will push an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation.

Famines could take hold in “about three dozen countries” in a worst-case scenario, David Beasley the executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a stark address. The agency identified 55 countries most at risk of being plunged into famine in its annual report on food crises, released this week, warning that their fragile healthcare systems will be unable to cope with the impact of the virus.

Ten countries were singled out as particularly at-risk, after housing the worst food crises last year; Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria and Haiti.

Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, food supplies in some of the most vulnerable regions in the world were being directly affected by impacts such as crop failures and locust swarms. Exceptional drought followed by extremely heavy rainfall markedly decreased the seasonal crop yield in the Horn of Africa during 2019. These irregular weather and climate patterns also contributed to the worst desert locust invasion in 25 years, which further threatened the crop supply in the region.

[CNN]

10 African countries have no ventilators. And that’s only part of the problem.

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South Sudan, a nation of 11 million, has more vice presidents (five) than ventilators (four).

The Central African Republic has three ventilators for its five million people.

In Liberia, which is similar in size, there are six working machines–and one of them sits behind the gates of the United States Embassy.

In all, fewer than 2,000 working ventilators have to serve hundreds of millions of people in public hospitals across 41 African countries, the World Health Organization says, compared with more than 170,000 in the United States.

Ten countries in Africa have no ventilators at all.

Many experts are worried about chronic shortages of much more basic supplies needed to slow the spread of the disease and treat the sick on the continent – things like masks, oxygen and, even more fundamentally, soap and water. Clean running water and soap are in such short supply that only 15 percent of sub-Saharan Africans had access to basic hand-washing facilities in 2015, according to the United Nations.

In Liberia, it is even worse – 97 percent of homes did not have clean water and soap in 2017, the U.N. says.

“The things that people need are simple things,” said Kalipso Chalkidou, the director of global health policy at the Center for Global Development, a research group. “Not high-tech things.”

[New York Times]

WHO warns Africa could be next COVID-19 epicenter

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Africa could become the next epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. UN officials also say it is likely the pandemic will kill at least 300,000 people in Africa and push nearly 30 million into poverty.

More than a third of Africa’s population lacks access to adequate water supplies and nearly 60% of urban dwellers live in overcrowded slums – conditions where the virus could thrive.

The fragile health infrastructure in the continent means that it will be doubly strained by an increasing number of new Covid-19 infections. There are only around five intensive care beds available for every one million people in most African countries, compared with around 4,000 beds for every million people in Europe. The WHO has also highlighted that the continent lacks ventilators to deal with a pandemic.

Dr Moeti told BBC Global Health correspondent Tulip Mazumdar that international travel played a part. “If you look at the proportion of people who travel, Africa has fewer people who are traveling internationally,” she said. But now that the virus is in within Africa, she says that her organization is acting under the assumption that it will spread just as quickly as elsewhere.

The WHO has witnessed the virus spreading from big cities to “the hinterland” in South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana, Dr Moeti said.

[BBC]

Funding of the World Health Organization WHO

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COVID-19 funding and money for much of the WHO’s work comes from voluntary contributions from states, international organizations, and the private sector.

Its core budget, however, is raised from membership dues. The United States has not paid its dues to the organization for 2020, nor has it paid most of 2019’s bill. The United States paid 12.5 of the organization’s voluntary revenue in 2018. This is funding donors can choose to withhold.

Mandatory – or “assessed’ – contributions to the WHO, on the other hand, are part of a member’s obligations and cannot be indefinitely skipped. Percentages are calculated and assigned to members proportional to their national wealth. The US share is 22 percent of the annual core budget. 

Ahead of the US funding boycott, the WHO already had commitments amounting to 94 percent of its $450 million COVID-19 funding target for this year. As of 9 April, it had received $365 million (about four percent of which was from the United States), and recorded pledges for a further $61 million, including an unknown US amount. 

So Trump’s funding cut announcement would appear to have a limited impact on the WHO’s COVID-19 response in 2020, with Kuwait, Japan, and the European Commission being the largest donors. The US contribution, recorded at $14 million, puts it in seventh place as a country donor.

While the WHO should be able to weather a US funding freeze for COVID-19, its long term prospects may be of greater concern.

[The New Humanitarian]

Trump halts US funding to World Health Organization WHO

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President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he is halting funding to the World Health Organization while a review is conducted. Trump said the review would cover the WHO’s “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus.”

Trump’s announcement comes in the middle of the worst global pandemic in decades and as he angrily defends his own handling of the outbreak in the United States. Amid swirling questions about whether he downplayed the crisis or ignored warnings from members of his administration about its potential severity, Trump has sought to assign blame elsewhere, including at the WHO and in the news media.

The US funds $400 million to $500 million to the WHO each year, Trump said, noting that China “contributes roughly $40 million.”

His decision to withdraw funding from the WHO follows a pattern of skepticism of world organizations that began well before the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has questioned US funding to the United Nations, withdrawn from global climate agreements and lambasted the World Trade Organization — claiming all were ripping off the United States.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said earlier Tuesday that while the WHO and China “made mistakes,” Trump is also looking to deflect blame from his own administration. “Right now, there is a very coordinated effort amongst the White House and their allies to try to find scapegoats for the fatal mistakes that the President made during the early stages of this virus,” he said. Murphy added: “It is just wildly ironic that the President and his allies are now criticizing China or the WHO for being soft on China when it was in fact the President who was the chief apologist for China during the early stages of this crisis.”

Just days before Trump instituted his ban on travelers from China, he also was praising the country. On January 24, Trump tweeted: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

Tuesday’s announcement about the halting of funding came days after a major US ally — the United Kingdom — announced an additional £65 million contribution to the WHO.

[CNN]

The poor losing vital remittance payments

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Osigan Caseres lost her job as a maid and no longer sends home $300 each month to her daughters in the Philippines to buy food for her eight grandchildren.

In Somalia, Asha Mohamed Ahmed no longer receives the $400 her daughter used to provide from working at a Minneapolis hotel to cover the family’s monthly bills. And in Mexico, Rosy worries how she will afford to buy medicine for her diabetic mother without the money her brother used to send before being furloughed at an Idaho ranch.

They are all economic victims of the novel coronavirus. As hundreds of millions of people around the world grapple with job losses, business closures and lockdowns, many are no longer able to help poorer relatives in developing nations whose lives can hinge on these payments. Billions of dollars in remittances from wealthier nations to poorer ones may be vanishing, threatening the welfare of millions of families globally and the health of their countries in the months ahead, economists say.

[The Washington Post]