A top official from the United Nations warned Friday of decades of tragedies if wealthy nations don't help poorer nations fight the coronavirus, which continues to rapidly spread across the globe.
"Unless we act now, we should be prepared for a series of human tragedies, more brutal and more destructive than any of the direct impacts of the virus itself," U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock told reporters on a call hosted by the World Health Organization.
Inaction from world leaders will leave the coronavirus free to circle the globe and "undo decades of development, and it will create decades worth of tragic and exportable problems," Lowcock said.
All of that is preventable, he said in a plea to wealthy nations to contribute to a $10.3 billion U.N. program to help poor nations fight the pandemic.
"It can be fixed with money and leadership from the world's wealthier nations and some fresh thinking," he said. "We estimate that the cost of protecting the poorest 10% of the global population from the worst effects of the pandemic and global recession is about $90 billion. That's less than 1% of the stimulus package wealthy countries have put in place to protect the global economy."
The coronavirus, which emerged more than six months ago, has infected nearly 14 million people worldwide and killed at least 590,600, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Health authorities in Idlib, Syria, reported last week their first case of Covid-19, sparking fears of an outbreak in crowded refugee camps.
The U.N. program, called the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, is aiming to respond to the humanitarian impacts of the coronavirus in low- and middle-income countries and support their efforts to fight it, Lowcock said. The plan has generated $1.7 billion from donors since it was launched in March.
The initiative comes as the U.S. cuts ties with the WHO, ending funding for programs that help countries in "all sorts of fragile and difficult settings," according to Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO's health emergencies program.
President Donald 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 agency 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, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference on May 1. "Meaning, the world had enough time to intervene."
The WHO said Friday the coronavirus isn't just a humanitarian issue. The agency said that unless the coronavirus is controlled everywhere "it is a risk everywhere and it will continue to threaten the world economically and it will continue to threaten the world politically until we get rid of this virus or bring it under sustained control."