Germany Makes € 500 Million Pledge To WHO – Plug For ‘Major Funding Gap’ Left By United States
Left: Germany’s Jens Spahn; Middle: Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; Right: France’s Olivier Veran

Germany has pledged an unprecedented 500 million to the World Health Organization for 2020, making this the “highest amount” ever provided by the country, said Jens Spahn, German Minister of Health at an impromptu WHO press briefing on Thursday. 

The German contribution, equal to about 20% of WHO’s annual budget, plugs the major funding gap left by United States, following President Donald Trump’s announcement last month that it would halt funding and withdraw over alleged “pro-China” biases in management of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

“Due to the still remaining major funding gap to implement the [COVID-19] Strategic Preparedness Response plan until the end of this year, the German government has decided to provide an additional €200 million to WHO on top of the € 110 million which we have already pledged…in May”, Spahn said at the press conference.  

Of the promised €500 million, other German funds will go to supporting WHO core programmes as well as financing the purchase of masks, respirators and other medical equipment, with an eye to supporting countries bearing the heaviest brunt of the disease, Spahn said.    

“This is a clear sign of our dedication to the work of the WHO”, Spahn added. “With partners all around the world, isolated national answers to international problems are doomed to fail. We are convinced that in a pandemic, you have to react on a national level, but you have to coordinate the reaction internationally.”

Spahn made his remarks just after a meeting with WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and French Solidarity and Health Minister Olivier Veran. 

At the event, France’s Veran also announced a new commitment of an additional 50 million to WHO as well as a 90 million commitment to a new WHO Academy, dedicated to training health professionals worldwide, and based in Lyon, France. 

“We need a global response and only the WHO is capable of achieving it. The WHO can count on the EU and German-French unity,” Veran said. 

But it is the breathtaking German contribution, which equals about US$ 561 million, that will put WHO on a more solid financial footing for the second half of 2020, which will be a critical period in the pandemic battle and for the organization’s leadership of the global response effort. 

In fact, the German funding will provide in 2020 alone an amount comparable to what the United States had pledged for the entire 2020-2021 period – in which US contributions had already been sharply reduced by the Trump Administration over previous years.  

“We’re not sure what will happen to funding” from the US, said Spahn. “The US has always been a very big and very much appreciated contributor to the WHO. We still want to be in touch and discuss how we can go on together within the WHO.”

On May 29, Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the Organization due to its alleged failure to undertake “greatly needed” reforms. Trump has also criticized the WHO for its excessive appraisal of China’s “transparency” early on in the pandemic. 

Germany’s move was lauded by Director-General Dr. Tedros, who stated:  

“WHO is a Member State organization, a family of nations. WHO is what its Member States decide it should be, and works with the resources its Member States decide it should have.”

This unprecedented commitment will ensure full implementation of WHO’s Strategic Preparedness Response Plan for 2020 – which aims to halt COVID-19 transmission around the world and to cushion the battering effects of the pandemic. 

And although Germany’s new commitment needs to be approved by Parliament first, Spahn said he was  “very confident” that it will be endorsed by July 2020.

France Donates 100 Million Masks To WHO & Pledges 90 Million To WHO Academy 

The WHO Academy will deliver health training around the world based on WHO guidance

With regards to the French commitments, the 90 million French pledge to the new WHO Academy will help the Lyon-based institution, just two hours from Geneva, prepare for the  planned launch of courses by May 2021.

The WHO Academy, a vision of Dr Tedros first announced last year, is a new initiative to deliver health training around the world, based on WHO guidelines and recommendations.  

“The WHO Academy will train many future health professionals and contribute to fundamental research and international cooperation, which is more important than ever given the COVID-19 crisis,” said Veran.

Discussions “Ongoing”  Over Opening Schengen Zone To Outside Travelers  

Travelers attempt to fly home from Madrid-Baraja Airport, Spain’s largest international airport

Veran also confirmed that the doors of the so-called “Schengen Zone” countries will be opened “soon” to outsiders – although he indicated criteria for admission would be on a case-by-case basis. 

“We need to protect the security and health of Europe”, he added. ”This is why we will assess the situation on a case-by-case basis. It will also depend on how outbreaks evolve, and the measures put in place by countries to halt transmission.”

Most travel has already been restricted between countries that lie within the zone, which includes 22 of the 27 European Union member states as well as non-EU members:  Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.  

However, a vigorous debate is going on over the management of travel from countries that lie outside the zone, and particularly countries like the United States, Brazil and the Russian Federation, where COVID-19 infection rates remain very high. 

The European Commission recommends that Member States use a checklist to assess whether travel restrictions should be lifted for any given country outside the EU, and has also urged Member States to come up with a common list of non-EU countries for which travel restrictions can be lifted as of 1 July, to be reviewed on a regular basis. This decision “should be based” on ‘objective criteria’, like a country’s epidemiological situation:

“Restrictions should be lifted first with countries whose epidemiological situation is similar to the EU average and where sufficient capabilities to deal with the virus are in place”, said the European Commission in a press release. ”Restrictions should remain in place for countries whose situation is worse than in the EU.”

The European Commission also recommends to lift travel restrictions for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia as of 1 July, given that their epidemiological situation is “similar or better” than that of the EU. 

However, while European health officials are clearly trying to make the criteria as evidence-based as possible, political pressures are also being wielded by Trump, who will see exclusion as a big blow to its prestige and economy. 

Although France does not want to ostracize travellers from outside the EU, it needs to guard against the importation of new cases of the novel coronavirus, which has infected over 9.5 million people and claimed almost 500,000 lives worldwide, Veran emphasized.

“We are not intending to ostracize or prevent anyone from entering France. France is a welcoming country, Europe is welcoming as well. However, precautions are important to take,” Veran said.

Added Spahn: “Regarding travelling to Europe and the European Union, there is an ongoing process of negotiating and consultation within the European Union and Member States, and since it is ongoing, I can’t tell you the results yet.”

Image Credits: Svĕt Lustig Vijay, WHO, Wikimedia Commons: Nemo.