WHO requests $675m in funding to tackle coronavirus

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday said that it was requesting an additional $675m (£500m) in funding to bolster a three-month plan to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

Some $60m (£46m) of the funding, the WHO said, would fund the organisation’s own operations. The rest would be used to help countries that are “especially at risk” from the virus, which has now killed almost 500 people and infected more than 24,300.

“Our message to the international community is: Invest today, or pay more later,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday.

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"$675m is a lot of money, but it is much less than the bill we will face if we do not invest in preparedness now. Once again, we cannot defeat this outbreak without solidarity — political solidarity, technical solidarity and financial solidarity.”

According to the WHO constitution, the organisation is primarily funded through contributions from member countries, which are know as “assessed contributions” because their size is determined based on a respective country’s wealth and population.

The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking in Geneva earlier this week. Photo: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP

But the WHO also receives voluntary contributions from donors, provided the conditions attached to the funding conform with the organisation’s objectives and policies.

The $675m is likely to come from contributions from wealthier member states willing to stump up further cash to fight the outbreak, but “extra-budgetary funds” can also come from the United Nations, private organisations, and philanthropic funds.

The WHO earlier on Wednesday denied reports in Chinese media that suggested scientists had made a breakthrough in finding a cure for the current coronavirus strain, noting “there are no known effective therapeutics.”

Separately, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Wednesday committed up to $100m to fight the epidemic.

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Though the funding will not go directly to the WHO, the foundation said it hoped the funding would “build on the steps” that the organisation has taken.

Medical staff ready to treat passengers while the World Dream cruiser is docked at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, Hong Kong. Photo: Getty Images

“The funding will help strengthen detection, isolation and treatment efforts; protect at-risk populations; and develop vaccines, treatments and diagnostics,” the foundation said.

Some 80% of those who have died thus far from coronavirus were over the age of 60, according to China’s National Health Commission.

Around 75% of them had pre-existing conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, the commission said.

“We understand that people are worried and concerned — and rightly so,” Tedros said.

“But this is not a time for fear — it’s a time for rational, evidence-based action and investment, while we still have a window of opportunity to bring this outbreak under control.”