In May, President Trump announced that he is withdrawing the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO). Announcement of the withdrawal comes after Trump time and again reviled the WHO’s handling of the novel Coronavirus response. Many experts have stated that the unprecedented move jeopardizes the efficiency of global health responses and can even obstruct the process of developing a vaccine for COVID-19.
Trump claims that the WHO had failed to act appropriately during the nascent days of the pandemic. Namely, for not sounding the alarm in time about the spread of the Coronavirus out of Wuhan.
In April, the Trump Administration froze U.S. funding to the WHO. Trump then sent a letter to the WHO director demanding “substantive changes” to the organization’s procedures within the next thirty days or else the U.S. will permanently cut funding to the agency. Just eleven days later, Trump made the decision final.
This decision has seen bipartisan backlash. “I disagree with the president’s decision,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in a statement after the announcement. “Withdrawing U.S. membership could, among other things, interfere with clinical trials that are essential to the development of vaccines, which citizens of the United States as well as others in the world need. And withdrawing could make it harder to work with other countries to stop viruses before they get to the United States.”
The legality of Trump’s withdrawal is still not clear. However, if the decision does follow through, congress can challenge it.
“This decision is really so short-sighted and ill-advised, and all it does is put American lives at risk,” said Dr. Howard Koh, former assistant secretary for health in the Obama administration and now a professor at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health.
Since the WHO’s founding in 1948, the U.S. has always played an outsized role in the agency’s operations. American experts hold many high ranking positions including in emergency committees which are in place to deliberate pandemic responses. It also remains unclear what would happen to their positions in the agency after a U.S. withdrawal.
A global centralized response to pandemics—especially one like the COVID-19 pandemic—is the most effective way to combat their spread.
Many have interpreted the move to withdraw from the WHO as an attempt to divert attention from the Trump Administration’s botched Coronavirus response.
The U.S. leads the world in most COVID-19 deaths and many experts claim that the numbers wouldn’t be as high as they are today had the President taken the virus more seriously during its early days.
Earlier this year, Trump downplayed the severity of the virus and even praised Chinese president Xi Jinping for his handling of its spread—although the very reason Trump is blaming the WHO is for not being tough on China.
Perhaps rescinding membership of the WHO is just another part of efforts to tarnish globalization, which is part of the agenda of the right-wing’s anti-globalization, nationalist stance.
Whatever the case may be, precluding U.S. support to the WHO in the middle of a global pandemic will likely disrupt the vaccine development process, stifle an organized attempt at stopping the spread of the virus, and inflict other ramifications related to world health.
The World Health Organization is the world’s number one organization in helping stop the spread of diseases in less developed countries as well as all over the world. It has been at the forefront in attempting to mobilize the world against COVID-19.
Global Health Council is a coalition of organizations serving as a hub for business engagement on the world’s most pressing global health issues.