House Democrats Say Freezing WHO Funding Could Harm Venezuelans
WASHINGTON - House Democrats urged the Trump administration on Friday to resume funding to the Pan American Health Organization, a regional branch of the World Health Organization that operates in Latin America.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said the Trump administration’s decision to freeze U.S. funds to PAHO could harm Venezuelans during the coronavirus crisis. “We believe it is dangerous and shortsighted of the Trump Administration to pause U.S. funding for the life-saving work of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in Venezuela and throughout the Americas in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Engels wrote in the letter, co-signed by Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., chairman of the subcommittee on Latin America.
The U.S. is currently withholding more than $100 million in funding that allows the PAHO to work on public health projects in Latin America. That includes $12 million to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Venezuela through diagnostic testing and contract tracing.
The PAHO has a long history of organizing public health campaigns throughout Latin America.
After a recent measles outbreak in Venezuela, the organization led a vaccination campaign that reduced the number of cases by more than 90 percent over the course of two years.
But President Trump announced in April that the U.S. would temporarily halt contributions to the WHO over the organization’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The move was condemned by health experts and leaders across the world.
The U.S. government is the WHO’s top donor, having contributed $893 million – nearly 15% of the organization’s finances – to its 2018-2019 budget cycle.
The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to aggravate conditions in Venezuela’s hospitals, which are already struggling with a shortage of basic medical supplies. Health experts estimate that 80% of the country’s hospitals don’t have running water, and nearly two-thirds don’t have access to beds.
Under the authoritarian rule of President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has experienced the worst economic downtown in its history. The recession, which has been marked by hyperinflation, unemployment, and political corruption , has sparked a major humanitarian crisis for the country’s roughly 29 million residents. Faced with starvation, lack of access to basic health services, and rampant crime, millions of Venezuelans have fled to neighboring countries like Colombia.
The number of Venezuelans living in poverty has surged to unprecedented levels in recent years, increasing from 48.4% in 2014 to 94% in 2018, according to surveys by the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello.
Since its creation in 1948, the WHO has played an important role in fighting infectious disease outbreaks around the world. Among other achievements, the organization recently helped with the development of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus.
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