US President Donald Trump announced on July 7th that his country has officially begun to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO). Trump has criticized WHO multiple times accusing it to be ‘slow to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic’ and also for being too ‘China-centric.’ On May 29, Trump announced his decision to leave the organization, accusing WHO of caving to ‘Chinese pressure’ and that it is under the “total control” of China.
In an email to media houses, Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, confirmed the receipt of a formal termination letter from the US “On 6 July 2020, the United States of America notified the Secretary-General …… of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization, effective on 6 July 2021”. He also added that the United Nations is checking with WHO to see if all the conditions for withdrawal have been met.
In the US, some experts are doubting the President’s power to withdraw from WHO. “It’s not clear that the president can unilaterally withdraw the United States from membership in the WHO,” said Rachel Sachs, associate professor of law at the Washington University in St. Louis and a renowned expert on health policy and drug law.
“The WHO Constitution is a treaty that the United States has ratified with the consent of Congress,” she said. “It’s not clear that the executive can withdraw us from the agreement without Congress’ consent.”
Experts have also criticized President Trump as the move in their opinion signals US withdrawal from global leadership. “Our world leadership role over the last 50 years was earned, not granted; we can lose it easily by dismissing the needs of other parts of the world, but will not readily regain it if we abdicate our leadership against COVID now…. WHO may not be perfect, and its response to the epidemic has had flaws, but our own national response has not been flawless, either, and we gain nothing by abandoning our international commitments,” says infectious diseases specialist William “Bill” G. Powderly, MD, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health and the J. William Campbell Professor of Medicine.
Some experts have also defended the WHO stating that the funding cuts pose an existential threat to the health and economic well-being of every country including the United States.
“The WHO works to improve health outcomes worldwide but particularly for the world’s most vulnerable people across: health emergencies, a broad range of infectious diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental health, climate change, environmental threats and more. This decision will increase death and disability rates around the world particularly amongst the world’s poor,” says Dr Keith Martin, Executive Director, Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH).
“This is the time for global solidarity and cohesion, not distrust, scepticism and division. COVID-19 is a clear signal of the need for coordinated and integrated approaches. We should be refining and enhancing business processes and networks – not dismantling them,” said Dr Patricia Davidson, Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.
The US contributes between $107 to $119 million in assessed contributions and an additional $102 – $401 million per year. The WHO’s total budget per year is $2.4 billion.