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]