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US government failed to track $8M in grants to Ecohealth Alliance, which gave money to Wuhan lab, IG

Despite the questionable spending, EcoHealth is still receiving grants from the U.S. government.

Published: January 26, 2023 8:29am

Updated: January 26, 2023 9:40am

The U.S. government failed to track grants worth at least $8 million to EcoHealth Alliance, a research non-profit that gave money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to study coronaviruses, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General.

The National Institutes of Health gave three grants worth $8 million to EcoHealth from 2014 through 2021, which in turn awarded more than $3.7 million to the lab in Wuhan, China, to study the emergence of bat coronaviruses during this time, the report states.

The watchdog identified more than $89,000 in what it called "unallowable costs" resulting from EcoHealth's improper use of grant funds.

"Substantial evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic was the result of a research-related incident associated with a laboratory in Wuhan," according to a report by Senate Republicans this past fall.

The inspector general stated that despite the potential risks associated with the research funded by the grants, the government "did not effectively monitor or take timely action to address EcoHealth's compliance with some requirements."

Additionally, EcoHealth was unable to obtain documentation from the Wuhan Institute, the report found. The watchdog recommended for the National Institutes of Health to "consider whether it is appropriate to refer" the Wuhan lab to Health and Human Services for debarment, which would prevent the agency from receiving government contracts, grants or loans.

EcoHealth President Peter Daszak defended his company in a letter to the inspector general stating that the $89,171 in unallowable costs "amounts to roughly 1% of the NIH grants awarded" to his non-profit. Additionally, an audit found that the government underpaid EcoHealth by more than $125,000, he said. 

EcoHealth also said the report should have noted that the pandemic and subsequent U.S.-China tensions "effectively shut down communications" between the non-profit and the Wuhan institute.

Despite the questionable spending, EcoHealth is still receiving grants from the U.S. government. Last month, the Defense Department gave the non-profit $3 million to work on "reducing the threat of viral spillover from wildlife in the Philippines."

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) introduced legislation Wednesday to ban EcoHealth Alliance funding after the inspector general's report. Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) introduced a bill that same day to ban funding for gain-of-function research, which came under scrutiny during the COVID pandemic.

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