I read on https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-14/trump-says-he-s-halting-payments-to-who-for-data-sharing-failure:

The U.S. has contributed about $893 million to the WHO’s operations during its current two-year funding cycle, according to the organization. China has given about $86 million over the same period.

Which means that the United States funds the World Health Organization 10 times more than China.

https://www.foxnews.com/world/coronavirus-us-china-who-world-health-organization-china gives more details:

China Contributions 2019:

  • Assessed: $75,790,000
  • Voluntary: $10,189,000
  • Total: $85,979,000

US Contributions 2019:

  • Assessed: $236,912,000
  • Voluntary: $656,092,000
  • Total: $890,004,000

Which means that the United States voluntarily funds the World Health Organization 60 times more than China. Why?

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    The US is the largest contributor to the UN in general (with China as number 2), so it's not surprising that the US is the number 1 contributor to the WHO as well. It's one of the costs of being a superpower
    – divibisan
    Apr 14, 2020 at 23:09
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    I haven't voted either way, but I'd guess the close vote comes from your focus on comparisons with China. It certainly feels like you're trying to push the idea that the US pays too much – if you're just interested in why the US pays so much, it might be better to just ask that: "Why does the US Voluntarily contribute so much to the WHO? without the specific China focus
    – divibisan
    Apr 14, 2020 at 23:59
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    What's the source of the Assessed Contributions? The WHO accounts page shows the US assessed level at $120M, not $280M and it also shows the US as $200M behind, or $80M excluding the 2020 contributions. For comparison, China's assessed contributions are roughly $60M per year. They are showing a $60M outstanding or $0 excluding 2020 contributions.
    – Jontia
    Apr 15, 2020 at 8:18
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    Yeah, the OP is asking about the voluntary ones only. I've rolled back the edit (@Alexei) trying to change the question into one about overall contribs. Apr 15, 2020 at 9:09
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    Are these voluntary contributions by state or do they include money from Gates? Apr 15, 2020 at 9:47

3 Answers 3


Partial frame challenge if you like. Fox News has chosen an interesting year to highlight. As you can see, US voluntary contributions have varied a lot; only $112 million in 2011 (and similar in 2014) for example.

U.S. Contributions to the World Health Organization, by Type of Contribution, FY 2010-FY 2017

A portion of these are also "earmarked funds", i.e. WHO can't spend them as they please, but only as the donor specifies, so e.g. the US DoD funds the WHO only to do some stuff in… South Korea! (It's true USAID funds a few more countries.) There are probably global activities that don't show up on that map though.

U.S. DoD earmarked funds map

From a WHO budget breakdown you can see that most of the voluntary contributions are not "core" but "specified", i.e. earmarked.

World Health Organization Schedule 1 - Voluntary contributions, by fund

The better question probably is "Why is China not giving more?". But I doubt they put out a press release about that.

And if we are to speculate why the US government is giving "so much", perhaps it's so they don't get bad press every year if the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were to consistently outspend them:

Since it began supporting WHO a decade ago, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been contributing between US$ 250 million and US$ 300 million a year. In one year – 2013 – it was the largest donor bar none, overtaking total contributions from the governments of both the USA and the UK.

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    @Jontia: yes. (Also, Gates himself also donates through Gavi, which is another major NGO contributor to the WHO programmes.) Apr 15, 2020 at 8:29
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    But Gavi also gets direct support from the US gov't. So in some sense just the direct US gov't contribs to WHO are bit undercounted... but the BMGF gives more to Gavi than the US gov't kff.org/global-health-policy/fact-sheet/… Apr 15, 2020 at 8:36
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    Frame challenge: last year' is not a random 'year to highlight'. If it's been high recently, (especially under the Trump admin), it's still a good question why. Apr 15, 2020 at 17:36
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    @JonathanCast: I'm not saying they did something underhanded. I said "interesting" not "cherry picked". I really don't even know what explains the large year-to-year variation in US voluntary contributions. Apr 16, 2020 at 19:39

Re. assessed, rather than voluntary contributions, this article goes into the funding calculation basis, for the UN as a whole (the WHO being part of the UN). The reason it's relevant is that, in political discourse, the US's share of UN contribution often comes up and it is definitely part of the general pattern of discussion on this type of subject.

Roughly speaking it seems to be based on % of gross world income, adjusted for debt level and wealth/poverty at a per capita basis.

From that POV, it is useful to remember that China's GDP sits around $10K/person, while the US sits at $65K/person. While GNI stands at $18,357,322M US vs $11,374,227M China.

I.e the US has almost twice the share of world income and its per capita basis is 6x. Debt can't figure too much into this, or else Japan and Italy would drop lower.

Basically, citizens of richer (per capita) countries pay (quite a lot) more per head than citizens of poorer (per capita) countries.

Edit: as this seems to cause some confusion...

To quote a comment:

by that logic, the biggest donors would be micro-countries like Luxembourg, since they usually dominate every "per capita" ranking.

Yes, and Luxembourg (112K$ GDP/person) is probably one of the biggest contributor per person. But since there are only about 600k Luxies adding up all their contributions would not dominate world rankings.

Let's pick Bangladesh($2K GDP/person) to do some comparisons. Let's arbitrarily pick some numbers and say that that each Lux. is assessed $50: 50 * 600k => $30M. On the other hand, there are 160M Bangladeshis, but the country as a whole is quite poor. So let's say each Bang. gets assessed $0.05, 1000 times less than each Lux.

Then Bangladesh pays $8M @ $0.05/person.

If that goes up to $0.50/person (1/100th the Lux. rate, but remember they are also only 1/60 as wealthy so they're only getting a 30% "discount"). Then Bangladesh pays $80M, much more than Luxembourg's $30M.

In neither case is the big question about only just the gross Luxembourg /Bangladesh national GDPs. It's mostly about wealth per person multiplied by the number of citizens.

Now, don't quote me on these $50/0.50/0.05 numbers, I just picked them to run through the math illustrating outcomes. The linked article explains it in more in detail. In the specific case of Bangladesh, as an LDC (Least Developed Country), it gets an ever bigger break in any case, being limited to .01% of the UN budget, max (roughly 5M$ out of 50B$).

The US is in its particular funding position because it is both one of the top-decile wealth per citizen (#7 in fact) and because it is a very big country (#3 after China and India) so per person assessments add up. When China starts nearing the US per person wealth, it will totally shoot up the contribution list. So, if the US stridently limits itself to max 20% for example they may come to regret it when China's bill ends up higher.


Also, if you look at the overall contributions, and you take say Germany, Norway or Canada's contributions, considering their sizes, the US's UN funding portion seems rather less exceptional.

Note: quartz, where I got this from has a left-center bias, with high factual accuracy rating from mediabiasfactcheck. I suppose it would be better to find a fully unbiased, but those are getting hard to find these days and I am lazy.

enter image description here

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    Doesn't China have more people than the US though? Why is GNI per capita and not total/raw GNI the relevant yardstick here? And if you to show us a graph, why not one that actually tries to prove your point, i.e. contributions per capita? Apr 15, 2020 at 8:16
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    @Fizz Why wouldn't per capita be relevant if we are comparing "rich" and "poor" countries? Being the "poorer" country is not just based on the absolute income, but the lack (less) of available/discretionary funds. China has more people, but the government also has to provide services to more people.
    – xngtng
    Apr 15, 2020 at 9:49
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    @Fizz Would merging two poor countries make a rich country? Apr 15, 2020 at 15:49
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    @Fizz the graph came from the same link. I am not trying to prove a point, merely citing the calculation basis, which I summarized, and which you can read up on in the cited link. On top of that, it's not very difficult to see, knowing roughly the order of magnitude population of the US vs Norway, that Norway seems to be contributing a heck of a lot more per person than the US, presumably due to the effect of this funding formula. Apr 15, 2020 at 15:54
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    In Fizz's defense, since we're talking about the countries' total contributions, their total GNI is also relevant. If two countries with equal GNIs and populations merged, the new country's GNI-per-capita would be the equal to the old, but its total WHO contributions would be the sum of the old.
    – ruakh
    Apr 15, 2020 at 23:45

It's not that USA pays a lot, it's that China is stingy. That probably has to do with a perceived western bias in the UN (citation needed) which China doesn't like (citation needed).

For example look at the data quoted in an other answer: Graph

Without going into calculations and sources, we see that Germany pays more per capita than the USA (80/328 population fraction vs 4/11 contribution fraction), same for the UK (67/328 vs 3/11), Japan pays less (126/328 vs 2.5/11), Sweden pays much much more (10/328 vs 1.5/11), Norway even more than Sweden, etc.

Someone should compile the data and use GDP in addition to population, but based on this sample data and my own knowledge, the USA is far behind most western european countries in giving money to the UN.

A plausible reason why both China and USA, i.e. super powers, pay less into international organizations than smaller powers is because less powerful countries have interest in strenghtening formal international cooperation, because such cooperation strengthens the weak.

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    Can you explain the fractions you compare?
    – hkBst
    Apr 16, 2020 at 7:10
  • @hkBst Population in million vs money taken from the picture, in billion.
    – Nobody
    Apr 16, 2020 at 8:39
  • This again doesn't really answer the question. Apr 17, 2020 at 21:15
  • @PresidentJamesMoveonPolk I assume by again you refer to your comment on that other answer. In the end, all contributions are voluntary.
    – Nobody
    Apr 18, 2020 at 8:02
  • Ah I see now. Would it not be clearer to explicitly calculate the contribution per capita instead of leaving it to the reader to compare two fractions?
    – hkBst
    Apr 18, 2020 at 10:39

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