World Inside

US funding to WHO fell by 25% during pandemic

Publish: 09:33 AM, 26 Jan, 2022


US financial contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO) have fallen by 25% during the coronavirus pandemic, provisional data show, with Washington's future support to the United Nations agency under review.

The large drop in funding versus the previous two-year period arose from cuts decided by former US President Donald Trump that reveal for the first time the scale of the Trump administration's retreat from the UN body.

US funds are set to go up again in the WHO's next two-year budget following new pledges in December including $280 million by President Joe Biden's administration. However, the Biden administration has also raised doubts about Washington's future support to the global organization.

The UN agency did with over $200 million less from the United States in 2020 and 2021, according to provisional WHO data contained in a budget document reviewed by Reuters that has not yet been made public, though it managed to raise more funds from other donors which enabled an increase of its total budget.

Washington paid $672 million to the WHO for its latest two-year budget, down from $893 million in 2018-19, the provisional data showed.

As a result, the United States is no longer the WHO's top donor, with Germany having replaced it gradually through transfers of more than a billion dollars over the last two years.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A WHO spokesperson did not immediately provide an official comment.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the third largest donor to the WHO, with $584 million in 2020-21, largely spent on a global programme to eradicate polio. The foundation did not immediately reply for a request for comment.

Over the past two years, US funds went down mostly in 2020 - Trump's last full year in the White House - amid a sharp fall in so-called voluntary contributions.

Funding doubled in 2021 when Biden took over, but the increase was not enough to fully restore the US financing level compared to previous periods.

Trump cut funding and moved to withdraw the United States from the WHO, accusing it of being too close to China and having mismanaged the first phase of the pandemic - accusations that the WHO has denied.

The Biden administration brought Washington back into the WHO and vowed to restore funding but has also voiced doubts about the WHO's ability to tackle new challenges, including from China.




Part of the US financial contributions were delayed by the WHO to next year. But even factoring this in, the fall in US funds was still about 20%, WHO data show.

About one-third of US funds were mandatory membership fees, which remained stable compared to past years at around $230 million per biennium.

This is considered by the WHO the best funding because it allows higher flexibility in spending and permits the agency to channel the money to where it is most needed.

But the majority of funding went to areas selected by the US government.

This is part of a wider trend, with the WHO having received in total just less than 20% of its funding in recent years from these mandatory contributions, without strings attached.

The WHO document showed that one of the areas underfunded as of Dec. 21 was country preparation for health emergencies, such as the current pandemic, which is only 73% funded.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated on Tuesday that the current funding structure was restrictive.

"The problem is still whatever we have done is mainly an earmarked budget, so it's not really flexible enough," he told the WHO's Executive Board during a public debate, saying that the current financing model was unsustainable.

The United States is opposing a plan to raise mandatory fees, or assessed contributions, to 50% of the WHO's budget in coming years.

"The US seeks to better understand the current funding mechanisms, efficiencies and decision-making before considering an increase in assessed contributions," US health official Mara Burr told the WHO board on Tuesday, noting Washington supported efforts to address gaps in financing for preparedness.

By far the largest part of the WHO's funding comes from voluntary contributions from states or private donors who decide the sectors or even the projects where they should be used.

This is one factor that has led the Geneva-based agency to delay the use of some of the funds since they could not all immediately be devoted to fighting the pandemic.

WHO   US funding  


World Inside

Musk hints at paying less for Twitter than his $44B offer

Publish: 11:53 AM, 17 May, 2022


Tesla CEO Elon Musk gave the strongest hint yet Monday that he would like to pay less for Twitter than his $44 billion offer made last month.

Musk told a Miami technology conference that a viable deal at a lower price would not be out of the question, according to a report by Bloomberg News, which said it viewed a livestream video of the conference posted by a Twitter user.

Also at the All in Summit, Musk estimated that at least 20% of Twitter's 229 million accounts are spam bots, percentage he said was at the low end of his assessment, according to the report.

The appearance came a few hours after Musk began trolling Twitter CEO Paraj Agrawal, who posted a series of tweets explaining his company's effort to fight bots and how it has consistently estimated that less than 5% of Twitter accounts are fake.

In all, the day's events bolstered theories from analysts that Musk either wants out of the deal or is seeking a lower price, largely due to a huge decline in value of Tesla stock, some of which he has pledged to finance the Twitter acquisition.

Twitter shares closed Monday down just over 8% at $37.39, below where the stock was just before Musk disclosed that he was Twitter's largest shareholder. Musk made the offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share on April 14.

On Friday Musk tweeted that his plan to buy Twitter was placed on temporary hold as he tried to pinpoint the number of fake accounts on the social media platform. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO said the hold was pending details of Twitter's calculation that fake accounts are less than 5% of its users.

In tweets on Monday, Agrawal acknowledged Twitter isn't perfect at catching spam. He wrote that every quarter, the company has made the estimate of less than 5% spam. “Our estimate is based on multiple human reviews of thousands of accounts that are sampled at random, consistently over time,” Agrawal wrote.

Estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5%, he wrote. “The error margins on our estimates give us confidence in our public statements each quarter.”

Musk, using his favorite platform, responded with a smiling emoji of poop, then asked how Twitter's advertisers know what they're getting for their money.

Tesla shares closed Monday down nearly 6% at $724.37. They have lost about one-third of their value since the trading day before Musk disclosed his Twitter stake.

Musk did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The All in Summit said in an email that it would post the video of Musk's appearance in the coming days.


Elon Musk   Twitter  


World Inside

Global Covid cases near 522 million

Publish: 10:11 AM, 17 May, 2022


The overall number of Covid cases is now fast approaching 522 million amid a rise in new infections in parts of the world.

According to Johns Hopkins University (JHU), the total case count mounted to 521,911,280 while the death toll from the virus reached 6,265,362 Tuesday morning.

The US has recorded 82,613,628 cases so far and 999,841 people have died from the virus in the country, the data shows.

India's Covid-19 tally rose to 43,124,879 on Monday with 1078 new cases registered in 24 hours, showed the health ministry data.

Besides, 27 deaths from the pandemic registered across the country since Saturday morning took the total death toll to 524,241.

Covid-19   Coronavirus   Pandemic  


World Inside

N Korea mobilises army, steps up tracing amid Covid wave

Publish: 09:44 AM, 17 May, 2022


North Korea has mobilised its military to distribute Covid medications and deployed more than 10,000 health workers to help trace potential patients as it fights a sweeping coronavirus wave, state media KCNA said on Tuesday.

The isolated country is grappling with its first acknowledged Covid-19 outbreak, which it confirmed last week, fuelling concerns over a major crisis due to a lack of vaccines and adequate medical infrastructure. 

The state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters reported 269,510 more people with fever symptoms, bringing the total to 1,483,060, while the death toll grew to 56 as of Monday evening, KCNA said. It did not say how many people have tested positive for Covid-19.

"A powerful force" of the army's medical corps was immediately deployed to improve the supply of medicines in the capital Pyongyang, the centre of the epidemic, following an order by leader Kim Jong Un, KCNA reported.

The team's mission was aimed at "defusing the public health crisis" in Pyongyang, it said.

Some senior members of the ruling Workers' Party's powerful politburo visited pharmacies and medicine management offices to check supply and demand, KCNA said in another dispatch, after Kim criticised ineffective distribution of drugs.

"They called for establishing a stricter order in keeping and handling the medical supplies, maintaining the principle of prioritising the demand and convenience of the people in the supply," KCNA said.

Tracing efforts were also intensified, with some 11,000 health officials, teachers and medical students joining an "intensive medical examination of all inhabitants" across the country to locate and treat people with fever.

Still, various sectors of the national economy are maintaining production and construction, while taking thorough anti-virus measures, KCNA added. Kim had ordered that limited activity be allowed in each city and county.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the virus may spread rapidly in North Korea, which had no vaccination programme and declined international help. 

South Korea offered working-level talks on Monday to send medical supplies, including vaccines, masks and test kits, as well as technical cooperation, but said the North had not acknowledged its message.

The US State Department said it was concerned about the outbreak's potential impact on North Koreans, and supports vaccine aid to the country.

"To this end, we strongly support and encourage the efforts of US and international aid and health organisations in seeking to prevent and contain the spread of Covid-19 ... and to provide other forms of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups in the country," a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson confirmed that the US envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, had a phone call with South Korea's new nuclear negotiator, Kim Gunn, without elaborating. - Reuters

N Korea   Covid-19  


World Inside

Ukrainian troops evacuate from Mariupol, ceding control to Russia

Publish: 09:18 AM, 17 May, 2022


Ukraine's military said on Tuesday it was working to evacuate all remaining troops from their last stronghold in the besieged port of Mariupol, ceding control of the city to Russia after months of bombardment.

The evacuation likely marked the end of the longest and bloodiest battle of the Ukraine war and a significant defeat for Ukraine. Mariupol is now in ruins after a Russian siege that Ukraine says killed tens of thousands of people in the city.

With the rest of Mariupol firmly in Russian hands, hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians had holed up beneath the city's Azovstal steelworks. Civilians inside were evacuated in recent weeks, and more than 260 troops, some of them wounded, left the plant for Russian-controlled areas late on Monday.

"The 'Mariupol' garrison has fulfilled its combat mission," the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in a statement announcing evacuations.

"The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel... Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time," it added.

Ukraine's deputy defence minister said 53 injured troops from the Azovstal steelworks were taken to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, some 32 kilometres (20 miles) to the east.

Another 211 people were taken to the town of Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Deputy Defence Minister Anna Malyar said. All of the evacuees will be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia, she added.

It was not clear how many troops remained in Azovstal. Ukraine's military said efforts were under way to evacuate those still inside.

Reuters saw five buses carrying troops from Azovstal arrive in Novoazovsk late on Monday. Some of the evacuated troops were wounded and carried out of the buses on stretchers. Some 600 troops were believed to have been inside the steel plant.

"We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys," Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an early morning address. "There are severely wounded ones among them. They're receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive."

Arriving in Novoazovsk in a bus marked with Z, a symbol for Russia's invasion, men could be seen stacked on stretchers on three levels. They stared out the windows without reacting. One man was wheeled out, his head tightly wrapped in thick bandages.

Since Russia launched its invasion in February, Mariupol's devastation has become a symbol both of Ukraine's resistance and of Russia's willingness to devastate Ukrainian cities that hold out.

The first evacuations late on Monday came hours after Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers to a medical facility in Novoazovsk.


Moscow calls its nearly three-month-old invasion a "special military operation" to rid Ukraine of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.

Russia's invading forces have run into apparent setbacks, with troops forced out of the north and the environs of Kyiv in late March. A Ukrainian counterattack in recent days has driven Russian forces out of the area near Kharkiv, the biggest city in the east.

Areas around Kyiv and the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border, have continued to come under Russian attack. A series of explosions struck Lviv early on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

On Monday, Ukraine's defence ministry troops had advanced all the way to the Russian border, about 40 km north of Kharkiv.

The successes near Kharkiv could let Ukraine attack supply lines for Russia's main offensive, grinding on further south in the Donbas region, where Moscow has been launching mass assaults for a month yet achieving only small gains.


Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared on Monday to climb down from threats to retaliate against Sweden and Finland for announcing plans to join the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.

"As far as expansion goes, including new members Finland and Sweden, Russia has no problems with these states - none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries," Putin said.

The comments appeared to mark a major shift in rhetoric, after years of casting NATO enlargement as a direct threat to Russia's security, including citing it as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine itself.

Soon before Putin spoke, Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Finland and Sweden were making a mistake that would have far-reaching consequences: "They should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it."

Putin said NATO enlargement was being used by the United States in an "aggressive" way to aggravate an already difficult global security situation, and that Russia would respond if the alliance moves weapons or troops forward.

"The expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response. What that (response) will be - we will see what threats are created for us," Putin said.

Finland and Sweden, both non-aligned throughout the Cold War, say they now want the protection offered by NATO's treaty, under which an attack on any member is an attack on all.

"We are leaving one era behind us and entering a new one," Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said, announcing plans to formally abandon militarily non-aligned status - a cornerstone of national identity for more than 200 years.

- Reuters

Ukraine   Mariupol   Troops Evacuate   Russia Control  


World Inside

Poor workers bear the brunt of India's heatwave

Publish: 11:09 AM, 16 May, 2022


For construction worker Yogendra Tundre, life at a building site on the outskirts of the Indian Capital New Delhi is hard enough. This year, record high temperatures are making it unbearable.

As India grapples with an unprecedented heatwave, the country's vast majority of poor workers, who generally work outdoors, are vulnerable to the scorching temperatures.

"There is too much heat and if we won't work, what will we eat? For a few days, we work and then we sit idle for a few days because of tiredness and heat," Tundre said.

Temperatures in the New Delhi area have touched 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) this year, often causing Tundre, and his wife Lata, who works at the same construction site, to fall sick. That in turn means they lose income.

"Because of heat, sometimes I don't go to work. I take days off... many times, fall sick from dehydration and then require glucose bottles (intravenous fluids)," Lata said while standing outside their house, a temporary shanty with a tin roof.

Scientists have linked the early onset of an intense summer to climate change, and say more than a billion people in India and neighbouring Pakistan were in some way at risk from the extreme heat.

India suffered its hottest March in more than 100 years and parts of the country experienced their highest temperatures on record in April.

Many places, including New Delhi, saw the temperature gauge top 40 degrees Celsius. More than two dozen people have died of suspected heat strokes since late March, and power demand has hit multi-year highs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on state governments to draw up measures to mitigate the impact of the extreme heat.

Tundre and Lata live with their two young children in a slum near the construction site in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi. They moved from their home state of Chhattisgarh in central India to seek work and higher wages around the capital.

On the construction site, labourers scale up walls, lay concrete and carry heavy loads, using ragged scarves around their heads as protection against the sun.

But even when the couple finish their day's work, they have little respite as their home is hot, having absorbed the heat of the sun all day long.

Avikal Somvanshi, an urban environment researcher from India's Centre for Science and Environment, said federal government data showed that heat stress was the most-common cause of death, after lightning, from forces of nature in the last twenty years.

"Most of these deaths occur in men aged 30-45. These are working class, blue-collar men who have no option but to be working in the scorching heat," Somvanshi said.

There are no laws in India that prevent outdoor activity when temperatures breach a certain level, unlike in some Middle-Eastern countries, Somvanshi said.

- Reuters

Heat wave   India   Weather