The World Health Organization's top official said Monday that he hopes the agency's partnership with the United States can continue, even after President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. will cut ties with the international aid group.
"The world has long benefited from the strong collaborative engagement with the government and the people of the United States," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference at the agency's Geneva headquarters. "The U.S. government and its people's contribution and generosity over many decades have been immense."
"It is WHO's wish for this collaborations to continue," he added.
On Friday, Trump said the WHO "failed to make the requested greatly needed reform" and that the U.S. "will be today terminating our relationship."
Last month, Trump threatened to permanently cut off U.S. funding of the WHO. In a letter, he said that if the WHO "does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization."
It's unclear exactly what mechanism Trump intends to use to terminate WHO funding, much of which is appropriated by Congress. The president typically does not have the authority to unilaterally redirect congressional funding.
When asked Monday how the U.S. could withdrawal, Tedros declined to answer.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the WHO's response to the coronavirus, which has hit the U.S. worse than any other country, amid scrutiny of his own administration's response to the pandemic. He has claimed the WHO is "China-centric" and blames the agency for advising against China travel bans early in the outbreak.
The WHO has defended its initial response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying it gave world leaders enough time to intervene early in the outbreak.
The agency declared Covid-19 a global health emergency on Jan. 30 when there were only 82 cases outside of China and zero deaths, Tedros said on May 1. "Meaning, the world had enough time to intervene."
The WHO has also defended China, saying as far back as February that the country's response to the virus was an improvement from past outbreaks such as SARS.
The WHO started sounding the alarm on the outbreak in China in mid-January. On March 11, WHO officials declared the outbreak a pandemic, when there were just 121,000 global cases. The virus has now infected more than 6.1 million people worldwide and killed at least 372,479, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.