Trump cutting ties with WHO will 'leave Americans sick and alone', experts say US needs WHO to fight Covid-19

Accusing the organization of being under China's control, Trump said he is terminating US' relationship with WHO and redirecting funds intended for the agency to other global health projects. 


                            Trump cutting ties with WHO will 'leave Americans sick and alone', experts say US needs WHO to fight Covid-19
President Donald Trump (Getty Images)

The US has officially notified the United Nations (UN) of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO), despite widespread criticism of the move amid the coronavirus pandemic. The withdrawal will come into effect on July 6, 2021, a year after receiving a formal notice regarding the decision by President Donald Trump, who has accused the WHO of being controlled by China. 

"I can say that on July 6, 2020, the US notified the Secretary-General, in his capacity as depositary of the 1946 Constitution of the WHO, of its withdrawal from the WHO, effective on July 6, 2021," confirmed Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, in a statement. Here's our report on what the Internet had to say to this move.

In April, Trump first said that he is halting funding to the WHO while his administration reviews the organization's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He then threatened to permanently end all funding to the WHO if the organization did not commit to significant improvements. Subsequently, in May, Trump announced that he is terminating the country’s relationship with the WHO and that the US will redirect funds intended for the agency to other global health projects. 

"We have detailed the reforms that it (WHO) must make and engage with them directly, but they have refused to act. Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the WHO and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs," said Trump on May 29.

Trump had alleged that Chinese officials ignored their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressured the organization to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered by Chinese authorities. "China has total control over the WHO, despite only paying 40 million dollars each year compared to what the US has been paying, which is approximately $450 million a year," he said. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump had said that China has total control over the WHO, despite only paying 40 million dollars a year compared to what the US has been paying, which is about $450 million a year (Getty Images)

Joe Biden, former US Vice President, said if elected President, his administration would reverse the decision. “Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health. On my first day as President, I will rejoin the WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage," Biden tweeted. US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the withdrawal as "an act of true senselessness as the WHO coordinates the global fight against Covid-19." She added, "With millions of lives at risk, the President is crippling international efforts to defeat the virus." 

Senator Robert Menendez, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also criticized the move. "Congress received notification that POTUS officially withdrew the US from the @WHO in the midst of a pandemic. To call Trump's response to COVID chaotic and incoherent doesn't do it justice. This won't protect American lives or interests — it leaves Americans sick and America alone," he tweeted. 

The move is poorly timed, given the need for international coordination and cooperation to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, according to experts. "The Administration's move to formally withdraw from WHO amid the greatest public health crisis that Americans and the world have faced in a century is short-sighted, unnecessary and unequivocally dangerous. WHO is the only body capable of leading and coordinating the global response to Covid-19. Terminating the US relationship would undermine the global effort to beat this virus – putting all of us at risk," said Elizabeth Cousens, UN Foundation's President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement.

She said while the early days of the pandemic response were far from perfect, world governments and the WHO Director-General have committed to a full, independent evaluation "from which we will all learn critical lessons."

The move is poorly timed, given the need for international coordination and cooperation to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, according to experts (Getty Images)

Dr Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that without WHO, the world would not have eradicated smallpox.  "MDRTB would have spread much more widely and we would have much weaker systems to track influenza and other deadly infections. Every country and organization needs to review its response to Covid-19 so it can do better in the future. Leaving WHO does not serve the interests of people in the US or anywhere in the world. We need WHO, we need it to be stronger, and it can be stronger with sustained US presence and support. WHO is essential to responding to Covid-19 and to broader global health protection," he said.  

Among all the countries, the US is by far the largest donor. Its contributions to the WHO during the two-year funding cycle of 2018 to 2019 is $893 million. A breakup of the estimates shows that assessed contributions from the US are $236,912K (amounts invoiced to each member state for the current biennium), while specified voluntary contributions are $656,092K (totaling 893,004K). Before it comes into effect next year, the Trump administration will have to pay Washington's dues under a 1948 joint resolution of the US Congress.

"The US is a party to the WHO Constitution since 21 June 1948. The US' participation in the WHO was accepted by the World Health Assembly with certain conditions set out by the US for its eventual withdrawal from the WHO. The said conditions include giving a one-year notice and fully meeting the payment of assessed financial obligations. The Secretary-General, in his capacity as depositary, is in the process of verifying with the WHO whether all the conditions for such withdrawal are met," said the UN's statement.

The US pulling out of the WHO could be a major setback for critical program areas that received funding such as polio eradication (27.4% of US funding was allocated), increasing access to essential health and nutrition services (17.4%), vaccine-preventable diseases (7.7%), tuberculosis (5.74%), establishing effective coordination and operations support (5%), infectious hazard management (4.66%), HIV and hepatitis (4.65%) and country-health emergency preparedness and the International Health Regulations, 2005 (4.45%), among several others. If these initiatives face a setback, death and suffering will surge, said experts. 

"A US withdrawal from WHO would also jeopardize decades of hard-won progress on other critical global health priorities that matter to Americans – from expanding access to vaccines to fighting diseases like polio, malaria, and HIV/AIDS, and working to strengthen health systems everywhere. Those priorities are not only shared the world over but have decades of bipartisan support in the US," said Cousens.

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