By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) is preparing to launch an appeal soon for more than $1 billion (£807.30 million) to fund operations against the COVID-19 pandemic through year-end, diplomats told Reuters on Thursday.
It comes against the backdrop of a salvo lobbed by U.S. President Donald Trump against the WHO over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and suggestions from his administration it might re-evaluate U.S. funding.
The U.N. agency needs more resources than ever as it leads the global response against the disease that has infected 1.4 million people and killed 85,000, diplomats and experts say.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a speech to diplomats on Thursday issued by the WHO, said it would release its latest plan "in the coming days".
"It will be well over $1 billion, maybe several billion," a Western envoy said. Another diplomat following the discussions said that the appeal would be at least $1 billion.
A WHO spokesman, asked about this figure, had no immediate comment.
It follows an earlier three-month appeal for $675 million through April, mostly for agencies operating on the ground rather than the WHO itself.
Tedros gave a strident defence of WHO's work on Wednesday, a day after Trump accused it of being "China centric".
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later said Washington was re-evaluating U.S. funding to the body, saying international organisations utilising U.S. taxpayer money needed to deliver on their goals.
The United States is the biggest overall donor, contributing more than $400 million in 2019 to the Geneva-based WHO, roughly 15% of its budget. China's contribution was about $44 million.
But China has contributed $20 million to the WHO's coronavirus appeal so far, exceeding the $14.6 million from the United States, WHO figures show.
"We’re all in this together, and we still have a long way to go," Tedros said. More than $800 million has been pledged or received since it made its initial $675 million appeal, he said.
Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C. said in a tweet that WHO's budget was equal to that of a "large U.S. hospital" and a quarter that of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). He urged the United States to lead major powers to "rapidly double" WHO's budget for COVID.
Ilona Kickbusch, a global health expert, said in a tweet: "@who as an organisation needs its member states to act to a common purpose - seems near impossible in the present #geopolitical climate #COVID19 #blamegame."
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Michael Shields and Frances Kerry)