GENEVA (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday he and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar have discussed cooperation to fight a new Ebola outbreak in Congo, even as the Trump administration is planning to pull the United States out of the U.N. health agency.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had a “very good discussion” with Azar last week, adding that “he assured me of U.S. continued commitment” especially against Ebola, soon after the new outbreak cropped up in Congo’s Equateur province.
“We hope to work together with the U.S. to address that outbreak in western DRC,” Tedros told reporters, referring to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, cited nine lab-confirmed Ebola cases and three probable cases in the new outbreak.
The cooperation will not involve any extra U.S. funding for WHO, Tedros and an HHS spokeswoman said.
Hopes for continued cooperation between the U.S. and the WHO come in the wake of President Donald Trump’s repeated criticism of WHO over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak — notably on its alleged “China-centric” stance. The outbreak first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Late last month, Trump said he was “terminating” the U.S. relationship with the WHO. But the conversation suggested that Washington still sees usefulness in continuing work and support for the agency.
“We have discussed with Secretary Azar to cooperate in helping DRC, but … we’re not receiving funding directly from the U.S.,” Tedros told reporters at a COVID-19 news conference in Geneva. “But I have said it many times: I think in our relationship with the U.S., it’s not about the money.”
“Working together — the relationship, I think — is more important, and hope we will work side by side to control or contain the outbreak in western DRC as soon as possible,” he said.
Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for Azar’s department, insisted the U.S. would not provide funding to the WHO, but “is happy to provide technical expertise or guidance to help end this outbreak.”
“Secretary Azar continues to demand accountability from the WHO in the face of multiple global health issues, including COVID-19 and Ebola,” she said in an e-mail. “As with other Ebola outbreaks, the U.S. will provide assistance that is needed to those countries to end the outbreak at its source to protect the American people.”
Associated Press journalist Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed from Washington.