The US is usually the largest contributor to the WHO's budget (with some odd year exception when the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation gave a bit more than the US government.)

But nonetheless, there is a lot of variation in the voluntary US contributions to the WHO.

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And there's even substantial variation within the years of the same US administration (a ratio of 1:2 or even 1:3 seems not uncommon), which seems to rule out a simple explanation like one administration favoring more contributions, unless I'm missing some correlation with respect to whom controlled Congress.

Anyway, my question is: what explains the large year-to-year variation in US voluntary contributions to the WHO?


Because these contributions are targeted specific Programmes and activities, and these Programmes are usually not constantly running.

The WHO document, Voluntary contributions by fund and by contributor, 2018 (PDF, page 6) shows the following categories of contributions by the US:

  • Core voluntary contributions account — $0
  • Voluntary contributions — core — $0
  • Voluntary contributions — specified — $132,951,856
  • Special Programmes and Collaborative Arrangements — $70,243,619
  • Outbreak and Crisis Response — $77,128,605
  • […]
  • Grand Total — $281,063,159

The same document contains a Note that sheds some light on how the funds are categorized:

Note 1.The core voluntary contributions account (CVCA) includes funds received to support the Programme budget as a whole, considered fully or highly flexible; and funds that are earmarked only at the level of the category. Voluntary contributions — core includes funds that are earmarked for purposes within the Programme budget, considered designated, or of a medium level of flexibility. Designated funds, earmarked at the level of programme area or major office, are not as tightly specified for detailed activity or expenditure line reporting as voluntary contributions — specified, yet are still earmarked rather than highly flexible so are categorized as voluntary contributions — core.

  • 1
    Yeah, but this is not entirely satisfactory in itself. What precisely are the programs that have been turned on and off to explain these large variations. I can think of the Ebola (2013–2016) crisis, but not much else that can be considered "seasonal" in this sense. Even for that to be explanatory, we'd need to know how much that program amounted to financially. – Fizz Apr 16 '20 at 21:29
  • Maybe the 2010 budget is explained by 2009 H1N1... – Fizz Apr 16 '20 at 21:34
  • SARS, MRSA, Zika, annual malaria season, annual flu season. I would imagine there are nutritional support programs, water treatment programs as well as programs for displaced people and war zones. – PV22 Apr 27 '20 at 1:22

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