The head of the World Health Organization warned President Donald Trump on Wednesday to stop politicizing the coronavirus crisis 'if you don't want many more body bags.'
'At the end of the day, the people belong to all political parties. The focus of all political parties should be to save their people, please do not politicize this virus,' WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said in a virtual press briefing.
'If you want to be exploited and if you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don't want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.'
He made an appeal for global unit and said all leaders of all political parties should focus on saving their people.
'Unity is the only option to defeat this virus,' he said.
'Without unity, we assure you even any country that may have a better system will be in trouble and more crisis. That's our message. Unity at the national level,' he said. 'No need to use COVID to score political points. No need. You have many other ways to prove yourselves.'
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu warned President Donald Trump to stop politicizing the coronavirus crisis 'if you don't want many more body bags'
President Trump attacked the World Health Organization on Tuesday, calling it too 'China centric' and suggesting that it was hiding information about the coronavirus from the rest of the world
'The United States and China should come together and fight this dangerous enemy,' Tedros said. 'They should come together to fight it and the rest of G-20 should come together to fight it, and the rest of the world should come together and fight it.
'We will have many body bags in front of us if we don't behave,' he noted. 'When there are cracks at [the] national level and global level, that is when the virus succeeds.
The organization has become the latest target of President Trump in his blame game as he points the finger for the devastating effects of the coronavirus - an economic down turn and over 12,000 American deaths - at everyone but his administration. Also feeling Trump's fury has been China, the states, governors and the Democrats.
The president has called it 'China-centric' and complained they 'missed the call' when it came to the coronavirus.
Tedros is an Ethiopian microbiologist and internationally recognized malaria researcher, who is the the first non-physician and first African to head the health organization, a role he has held since 2017.
He previously served as Ethiopia's minister of health and minister of foreign affairs.
Tedros, who is black, said he doesn't 'care about personal attacks' against himself, addressing the death threats and insults he's experienced amid the global pandemic, which has seen 1.4 million cases worldwide with more than 82,000 deaths in 209 countries across the world.
'I can tell you personal attacks that have been going on for more than two, three months. Abuses, or racist comments, giving me names, Black or Negro. I'm proud of being Black, proud of being Negro,' he said. 'I don't care to be honest ... even death threats. I don't give a damn.'
Dr. Deborah Birx said the World Health Organization delayed labeling the coronavirus outbreak a 'global pandemic'
Dr. Tony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, refused to get involved in the White House war with the WHO
On Tuesday President Trump launched a full-scale attack against the agency when he was with holding the millions of dollars the United States' contributed to it before reversing himself to say there should be an investigation of the group's response to the pandemic.
Dr. Deborah Birx joined the criticism, saying the group delayed labeling the coronavirus outbreak a 'global pandemic.'
Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the administration, appeared to implicate the agency's ties to China - which is rapidly become a conservative talking point - saying the WHO can only respond to information it receives.
'You know, the WHO can only react to the data it's given. And when you go back and look at the timeline, it wasn't until I think almost the middle of January that China reported that there was human-to-human transmission,' she said on CBS' 'This Morning.'
'We have to really investigate reporting and how the reports were received there. I think it did delay the ability to declare this a global pandemic, an emergency. We can do all of that when we get through this as a global community to really understand how to do this better the next time,' she noted.
Birx clarified Trump's remarks when she did a series of interviews Wednesday morning after the White House endured a chaotic day: a shake up in press office, a key watchdog removed by the president, and Trump's contentious press briefing.
'When the president said he was holding funds, he didn't say he was restricting and keeping funds permanently away. But said instead said let's investigate what happened. Let's see what happened in our reporting. We've done that before with previous outbreaks and previous issues that have occurred at WHO,' Birx said on ABC's 'Good Morning America.'
But Dr. Tony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, refused to get involved in the White House war with the WHO.
'I can't get involved in that kind of discussion,' he said Wednesday morning on Fox News Channel's 'America's Newsroom.' 'I just need to focus on what my job is, to see what we can do in this country and globally to put an end to this. The interaction between the WHO is -- is something that I really prefer not to get involved with.'
At a daily press briefing on Tuesday, Trump accused the WHO of mishandling the coronavirus outbreak and said: 'We're going to put a hold on money.'
When asked by reporters whether it was wise to slash funding to the WHO during a time of emergency, the president quickly backtracked and said he was only looking into a possible suspension of funds.
But he doubled down on his criticism of the group.
'They called it wrong, they called it wrong, they missed the call,' Trump said.
'They should have known and they probably did know,' he added, suggesting the group was withholding information about the coronavirus.
Trump's main beef with the United Nations health group is that leadership there said it wasn't necessary to ban travelers coming in from China as the coronavirus started spreading beyond Wuhan, where it originated.
The president has bragged that his early ban of some travelers from China kept it from being a greater threat to the U.S.
Trump has followed the lead of prominent conservatives in complaining that the WHO has been too friendly to China during the coronavirus crisis.
Earlier on Tuesday, the president attacked the WHO for being 'China centric'.
World Health Organization criticized for its response to the coronavirus crisis
The World Health Organization has been criticized for its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
As concern about the crisis developing in Wuhan grew, the WHO followed the Chinese government's line by stating there was 'no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission'.
The United Nations agency then took another week to correct that statement.
The WHO has also been criticized for not standing up to the disinformation coming from Beijing, which has been accused of downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak and misreporting its true death toll figures.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has been slammed for his praise of the way China has responded to the pandemic.
Dr Tedros has at times called out other countries for their handling of the crisis.
In particular he lamented the 'level of stigma we are observing' in reference to the language used by President Trump to describe it as the 'China virus'.
On January 31, the Trump administration announced travel restrictions on people coming from China due to the outbreak.
But on February 3, WHO said such bans on travel and trade were not needed.
As the contagion began to spread outside of Wuhan where it originated, the WHO reassured the world that the virus was a regional problem.
Most countries have since adopted the same stringent 'stay at home' rules and others have imposed lockdowns restricting citizens' movements.
In late January, when the virus had already spread to several countries, a WHO emergency committee debated whether to declare COVID-19 a 'public health emergency of international concern'.
However Dr Tedros declined amid Beijing's objections and instead traveled to China, before finally making the declaration a week later on January 30.
At the time he said: 'The Chinese government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken.
'I left in absolutely no doubt about China's commitment to transparency.'
Also in late January, Tedros complimented China's President Xi Jinping for the country's handling of the virus, as the Chinese leader centralized the response after local officials in Wuhan couldn't keep the outbreak under control.
He wrote on Twitter: 'The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look.'
The World Health Organization has been criticized for not pushing China to clarify its response and question its numbers on the disease. There is skepticism about the numbers Beijing is reporting.
Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO's regional director for Europe, defended the group.
He said: 'We are now in an acute phase of the pandemic - now is not the time to cut back on funding.'
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric also rejected Trump's criticism of the WHO and backed director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, for his 'tremendous work'.
'For the Secretary General [Antonio Guterres] it is clear that WHO, under the leadership of Dr. Tedros, has done tremendous work on COVID in supporting countries with millions of pieces of equipment being shipped out, on helping countries with training, on providing global guidelines. WHO is showing the strength of the international health system', he told reporters.
Dujarric added the WHO recently did 'tremendous work' in putting its staff on the frontlines to successfully fight Ebola, an infectious and often fatal disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The WHO declared COVID-19 a public health emergency on Jan. 30, which was 43 days before President Trump declared a national emergency in the United States.
The group is part of the United Nations and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland with 150 offices around the world.
The agency is funded in two ways - through assessed contributions and voluntary contributions.
The assessed contributions, which are like dues to the organization, are calculated by looking at a country's wealth and population.
In its February budget proposal, the Trump administration called for slashing the U.S. contribution to the WHO in half from the previous fiscal year - from $122.6 million to $57.9 million.
While the U.S. pays the most in assessed contributions, that full pot of money has only accounted for less than 25 per cent of WHO's haul over the past few years.
However, Americans NGOs and charity organizations, along with taxpayer dollars, do make up the biggest chunk of the WHO's funding.
Trump said near the start of his virus briefing Tuesday: 'The WHO, that's the World Health Organization, receives vast amounts of money from the United States and we pay for a majority, the biggest portion of their money, and they actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it.
'And they were wrong. They've been wrong about a lot of things.'
'And they had a lot of information early and they didn't want to - they seemed to be very China centric,' he said, changing the point he was trying to make mid-sentence.
Later in the briefing Trump threatened to cut off the WHO's supply of money from the United States.
Trump added: 'We're going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We're going to put a very powerful hold on it. And we're going to see.
'It's a great thing when it works but when they call every shot wrong that's not good. They are always on the side of China.'
Later when the president was asked if it was a smart move to cut off funds to the major global health organization during a worldwide pandemic he backed away from his previous threat.
'I'm not saying I'm going to do it, but I'm going to look at it,' Trump pledged.
The president was later asked why he thought the WHO was 'China centric'.
Trump responded: 'I don't know, they seem to come down on the side of China.'
'Don't close your borders to China, don't do this, they don't report what's really going on, they didn't see it and yet they were there. They didn't see what was going on in Wuhan...they must have seen it, but they didn't report it,' he said.
World Health Organisation (WHO) European director Hans Kluge defended the agency after Trump threatened to cut funding. He is pictured (above) during a joint press conference on the Danish handling of coronavirus last month
Trump suggested he might cut the US's funding that goes toward WHO, calling the United Nations agency 'very China centric'
A tweet from the WHO in January pushing out the disinformation fed to it by Beijing about the virus, which it was reticent to declare a pandemic
On January 31, the Trump administration announced travel restrictions on people coming from China due to the outbreak.
But WHO said such bans were not needed, noting that 'travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation' of coronavirus cases, but may instead 'have a significant economic and social impact.'
And the group noted that 'restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.'
'Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on,' Trump tweeted Tuesday.
'Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?' the president asked.
WHO is also still not recommending that every person wears a mask, while the Centers of Disease Control made the voluntary recommendation last week.
Trump was following the lead of American conservatives including Florida Sen. Rick Scott who placed blame on WHO for 'helping Communist China cover up a global pandemic.'
Other GOP lawmakers have floated a theory that WHO is under China's spell.
Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus should resign because 'he allowed Beijing to use the WHO to mislead the global community.'
As did Sen. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican.
'They need to come clean and another piece of this is, the WHO has to stop covering for them,' she said of China. 'I think Dr. Tedros needs to step down,' McSally said on Fox Business Network.
'We need to take some actions to address this issue. It's just irresponsible, it's unconscionable what they have done here while we have people dying across the globe,' McSally added.
Scott, the Florida senator, said the Senate Homeland Security Committee needed to launch an investigation into WHO's handling of the virus.
In late January, Tedros complimented China's President Xi Jinping for the country's handling of the virus, as the Chinese leader centralized the response after local officials in Wuhan couldn't keep the outbreak under control.
But Xi also controlled the flow of information, with reports coming out of China that the country had been trying to silence whistleblowers.
At the same time, Democratic governors, lawmakers and pundits have condemned Trump's response in combatting the virus, suggesting he did too little, too late.
How the man running World Health Organisation trashed by Trump as China-centric is a career politician who worked for a Communist junta and became WHO's first NON-doctor Director-General 'following intense lobbying from Beijing'
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a little-known figure before the coronavirus pandemic, has risen to prominence as Director-General of the World Health Organisation which is spearheading global responses to the virus.
Dr Tedros - who has never practised as a medical doctor - is a career politician who was born in what is now Eritrea, began work under the Communist Derg junta, came to study in the UK, then rose to the top of Ethiopia's government first as Health Minister and then Foreign Minister before being elected to lead the WHO in 2017.
He is now facing heavy criticism over his handling of the pandemic, especially for praise he heaped on China's communist party for its response - hailing the regime's 'commitment to transparency' and saying the speed with which it detected the virus was 'beyond words'.
That has led to allegations - mostly recently made by Donald Trump - that the WHO is 'China-centric', a position that the US President has promised to 'look into'.
Trump has threatened to suspend US funding to the WHO until an investigation has been carried out, while suggesting that they withheld information on the virus.
Indeed, it is not the first time that Dr Tedros has been accused of cosying up to China. Shortly after his election victory in 2017, it was alleged that Chinese diplomats had been heavily involved in lobbying for him.
UN records also show that Chinese contributions to both Ethiopia's aid budget and the WHO have substantially increased during times when he was in top leadership positions.
The WHO and its Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus (left, pictured meeting with Xi Jinping in January) has faced accusations that the organisation is 'China-centric' and has been too quick to praise the regime's coronavirus response
Dr Tedros (left) became the first African head of the WHO and the first non-medical doctor to hold the role when he was elected in 2017, amid allegations of heavy lobbying by China (pictured, Dr Tedros in Beijing shortly after his election)
Shortly after his election to the WHO, a report in The Times said: 'Chinese diplomats had campaigned hard for the Ethiopian, using Beijing’s financial clout and opaque aid budget to build support for him among developing countries.'
Dr Tedros - who is married and has five children - was born in 1965 in Asmara, which was part of Ethiopia at the time but is now in Eritrea.
As a child he saw his younger brother die to an infection, which he believes was measles, which he later said spurred his determination to work on health and health policy.
He graduated from university in Ethiopia in 1986 with a degree in biology and went to work as a health official in the regime of Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, while the country was ruled by the Derg military junta.
According to the BBC, Dr Tedros then joined the hard-left TPLF - which started life as a Communist party and played a major role in overthrowing Mariam in 1991. It later became part of the EPRDF, a coalition of left-wing parties that ruled Ethiopia until last year.
Around the same time as Mariam's ouster, Dr Tedros left Ethiopia and came to the UK where he studied at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, graduating with Masters of Science in Immunology of Infectious Diseases in 1992.
He then went on to study at the University of Nottingham, where he received a PhD in community health in 2000.
After this, he returned to Ethiopia where he joined the health ministry and rose through the ranks from regional health minister all the way to national Minister for Heath - a position he took up in 2005.
During his tenure, which lasted until 2012, he was widely praised for opening thousands of health centres, employing tens of thousands of medics, bringing down rates of HIV/AIDS, measles and malaria, as well as bringing information technology and the internet into the heath system.
Before ascending to the top ranks of the WHO, Dr Tedros studied in the UK and served Ethiopia's ruling left-wing coalition as health minister and then as foreign minister (pictured in the role in 2015)
Dr Tedros was the first WHO head elected by member states, winning the ballot by a reported 133 votes to 50, with the near-unanimous backing of African states
In November 2012 he was promoted to Foreign Minister, and was widely hailed for helping to negotiate a boost in UN funding for Ethiopia, including as part of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.
Indeed, UN funding records show that around this time the country received millions in additional funding - including from China, which had previously given little or nothing to support the country.
In 2015 and 2016 China gave some $16million to Ethiopia in spending commitments and cash contributions, largely in support of food or refugee programmes.
In 2011, just before Dr Tedros took up the role, and in 2017, just after he left, China handed over another $44million in commitments and contributions.
Its total contributions outside of this period, dating back to the year 2000, were just $345,000.
In 2017, Dr Tedros left the Ethiopian government and entered the running for Director-General of the WHO as the tenure of Dr Margaret Chan, a Canadian-Chinese physician, was coming to an end.
The election was the first to take place under a system of polling all UN member states as part of a secret ballot. Previously, leaders were chosen by a closed-door vote of an executive committee.
Eventually the field was boiled down to two candidates - Dr Tedros and Briton Dr David Nabarro, a life-long physician who had helped lead UN responses to previous outbreaks including bird flu, the cholera outbreak in Haiti, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Dr Tedros won the ballot by a reported 133 votes to 50, becoming the first African leader of the WHO and the first non-medic to hold the role. His victory came in part thanks to 50 out of 54 African states voting for him.
However, he quickly mired himself in controversy by recommending African dictator Robert Mugabe as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador, amid allegations he trying to repay favours granted during the election.
Dr Tedros quickly embroiled himself in controversy at the WHO by trying to appoint African dictator Robert Mugabe (pictured at a conference together in 2017, the year of the appointment) but eventually bowed to pressure and dropped it
There were reports that the move was also intended to reward China, a long-time supporter of Mugabe, for using its influence to have him elected.
The Times added: 'China has praised the authoritarian development model of Ethiopia’s regime, which rules under emergency powers and has put down pro-democracy protests.'
During the 2017 election itself, several groups within Ethiopia opposed Dr Tedros's appointment due to his links with the TPLF and allegations that they stifled journalists and repressed minorities.
Dr Tedros was also accused of covering up three separate cholera outbreaks in 2006, 2008 and 2011 by mis-reporting it as 'watery diarrhea', allegations he dismissed as a 'smear campaign' by his British rival.
Following his election to the WHO, Dr Tedros vowed to reform the organisation by placing an emphasis on universal healthcare at its centre while also increasing funding.
Further UN funding records show that, during his tenure, assessed contributions to the WHO by China have also risen significantly - from roughly $23million in 2016 to $38million in 2019.
China has also committed to a further $57million in funding in 2020, though has yet to pay the balance.
Meanwhile funding from other major world economies - including the US, Russia, Japan and Germany - has remained largely flat or even fallen over the same period.
Assessed contributions make up only around a quarter of the WHO's budget, the rest of which comes from donations.
Dr Tedros (pictured with his family) was widely praised during his tenure as Ethiopia's health minister for helping to lower rates of measles, malaria, and HIV/AIDS as well as building thousands of health centres and hiring thousands of medics
MailOnline has contacted the WHO for comment, but had not heard back at the time of publication. This site also reached out to the University of London and University of Nottingham to check biographical infomation on Dr Tedros, but had also not received a response.
Recent criticism of the WHO and Dr Tedros specifically stems from its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and in particular its perceived closeness to authorities in Beijing.
Dr Tedros visited Beijing himself back in January and spoke with President Xi about the country's response, returning to give a speech that praised the regime's transparency, the speed of its response, and credited it with saving lives both at home and overseas.
That is despite the fact that medics from Taiwan - which are not represented at the WHO since China claims it as part of its country - claimed to have raised concerns about the response as far back as December 2019.
Medics told the Financial Times that they had anecdotal evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus, something China was denying at the time and a key factor in turning the disease into a global pandemic.
They claim this was reported to the WHO on December 31, but not shared with other countries. China itself did not report human-to-human transmission until almost a month later - January 20 - by which time the disease had began spreading throughout the country and across the world.
A petition calling for Dr Tedros's resignation which began in Taiwan has now topped 750,000 signatures.
The WHO Director is known for his hands-on approach, often personally visiting countries affected by disease outbreaks - including the Democratic Republic of Congo which was hit by Ebola in 2018 (pictured)
China has also faced allegations it attempted to silence medics - including the now-deceased Dr Li Wenliang - who first reported on the disease, and covered up early cases.
At his Tuesday evening coronavirus briefing, Donald Trump took aim at the WHO, saying the US would consider suspending funding to the organisation until an investigation is carried out.
'They called it wrong, they missed the call,' he said, adding: 'They should have known and they probably did know,' suggesting the WHO was withholding information about the coronavirus.
'The WHO, that's the World Health Organization, receives vast amounts of money from the United States and we pay for a majority, the biggest portion of their money, and they actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it,' Trump said near the top of the briefing.
'And they were wrong. They've been wrong about a lot of things.
'And they had a lot of information early and they didn't want to - they seemed to be very China centric,' he said.
Today Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO's regional director for Europe, defended the organization.
He said: 'We are now in an acute phase of the pandemic - now is not the time to cut back on funding.'
He also said his administration would look into whether the US would withdraw its $513m funding.
Coronavirus has now infected at least 1.4million worldwide and killed more than 80,000 - though these figures are widely believed to be under-estimates.