U.S. rejects WHO coronavirus resolution’s language on abortion, IP

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States rejected language about reproductive healthcare and intellectual property rights in a World Health Organization resolution on the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, hours after President Donald Trump threatened to quit the body.

FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) are pictured during the World Health Assembly (WHA) following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Geneva, Switzerland, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

Washington did not block the consensus adoption of the text, which calls for a review into the global response to the crisis and which diplomats had striven to pass without a vote.

But in a statement it said it “dissociates” from paragraphs guaranteeing the rights of poor countries to waive intellectual property rules to obtain medicines in an emergency, and guaranteeing reproductive and sexual healthcare in the pandemic.

“The United States believes in legal protections for the unborn, and rejects any interpretation of international human rights … to require any State Party to provide access to abortion,” it said in an “explanation of position”.

The language on intellectual property, designed to ensure poor countries can have access to medicine, sends “the wrong message to innovators who will be essential to the solutions the whole world needs”, it added.

The resolution was passed after Trump, who has accused the WHO of backing China, tweeted overnight a letter threatening to quit the world health body and permanently halt funding unless it commits within 30 days to improvement.

The Geneva-based body declined to comment on Trump’s threat to quit, saying only that it had received a letter from Trump and was considering its contents.

Diplomats said ultimately Washington had decided not to block the resolution outright, despite its objections.

“There is a strong desire on their part to join consensus,” a Western diplomat said ahead of adoption. Referring to the intellectual property issue in particular, the diplomat added: “If they don’t join, they are isolated, unfortunately. There is really a global consensus on the importance of this.”

The EU resolution calls for a review into how the novel coronavirus spread after making the jump from animals to humans, believed to have happened at a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

On Monday, the WHO said an independent review of the global coronavirus response would begin as soon as possible. Even as Trump has proposed quitting, the body received backing and a two-year pledge of $2 billion in funds from China’s President Xi Jinping.

The EU text calls on WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to initiate an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the international health response to COVID-19 “at the earliest appropriate moment.”

During his three years in office, Trump has criticised many international organisations and quit some. Still, European diplomats said they were taken aback by Washington’s decision to stand aside at the WHO while China is boosting its role.

“It was so striking to see Xi Jinping seizing the opportunity to open up, with broad (cooperation), and make a proposal for $2 billion, and say if ever there is a vaccine they will share it with everyone,” a European diplomat said.

“It’s exactly what we feared: the space liberated by Washington will be taken up by China.”

Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Peter Graff

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