While it isn't unusual to see international cooperation in the field of virology, this claim stretches the truth.
By Dan Evon
Published 24 April 2020
The Obama administration provided a $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
A portion of $3.7 million in grants awarded between 2014 and 2019 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to EcoHealth Alliance, a global environmental health nonprofit organization, helped fund research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
However, not all of that $3.7 million went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and not all of the funding took place under the Obama administration. Approximately $700,000 of the $3.7 million total was approved under Donald Trump.
There’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s start with the basic claim:
Did the Obama administration grant $3.7 million to the Wuhan Institute of Virology?
Between 2014 and 2019, the EcoHealth Alliance was awarded a series of grants totaling approximately $3.7 million by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (a division of the National Institutes of Health) to study the “risk of future coronavirus (CoV) emergence from wildlife using in-depth field investigations across the human-wildlife interface in China.” Only a portion of this money has been used to fund research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, however, and approximately $700,000 of this grant money was awarded under the Trump administration.
Despite having a grain of truth at its core, the claim that the Obama administration gave a $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology is therefore misleading at best. It first gained prominence on April 11, 2020, on the heels of an article published in the Daily Mail. The British tabloid claimed that it had obtained documents showing that coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been funded by a $3.7 million grant from the U.S. government:
“Documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday show the Wuhan Institute of Virology undertook coronavirus experiments on mammals captured more than 1,000 miles away in Yunnan – funded by a $3.7 million grant from the US government.”
The Daily Mail did not provide links or screenshots to these documents. They did, however, write that this money funded a research paper published in November 2017 entitled: “Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus.”
This is the title of a genuine paper published by researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It’s also true that this paper was partially funded by money granted by the National Institutes of Health. However, when we followed up using the grant number listed in the funding section of the paper (NIAID R01AI110964), we found that the NIH did not directly issue this series of grants to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.