Geneva/Zurich, Switzerland

The World Health Organization announced on Wednesday the creation of a foundation to tap new sources of funding that could help ease a potential cash shortage as it leads the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic. 

Announcing the creation of the WHO Foundation at a virtual briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus denied the move was related to "recent funding issues", saying it had been in the works for years. 

WHO foundation launch

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, and Thomas Zeltner, founder of the WHO Foundation, attend the signing of the memorandum of understanding between WHO and the WHO Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27th May. PICTURE: Christopher Black/WHO/Handout via Reuters

President Donald Trump has threatened to halt funding from the United States, the WHO's biggest donor, after criticising its handling of the pandemic and accusing it of being China-centric. In a letter to Tedros last week, Trump called on the UN agency to initiate reforms within 30 days.

Tedros told a news conference the body had warned "many times" about a pandemic in recent years. Countries had identified gaps in their preparedness for fighting pandemics, but financing had not materialised, he said.

"Finance these plans, and make sure that countries are prepared to fight - to finish the current one, but to prepare for the next epidemic, which may happen because we are still vulnerable," he added.

Tedros said this month that the WHO's annual budget of around $US2.3 billion was "very, very small" for a global agency, around that of a medium-sized hospital in the developed world. 

He also said that the funding sources were too uncertain.

The WHO Foundation is being created as an independent grant-making entity that will support the UN agency's efforts to address the most pressing global health challenges by raising new funding from "non-traditional sources".

Its founder Thomas Zeltner, Switzerland's former health secretary, told Reuters he hoped for donations from high net-worth individuals as well as corporations and the general public. 

At the same briefing on Wednesday, the WHO head of emergencies programme Mike Ryan reiterated that the body advised against using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 - a drug Trump has said he takes.

- Additional reporting by SILKE KOLTROWITZ