WHO needs support in ongoing pandemic

Published July 13, 2020, 10:20 AM

by Manila Bulletin

The United States informed the United Nations last week that it is leaving the World Health Organization (WHO) effective July 6, 2021, carrying out President Trump’s threat to leave the organization which he claimed to be too “China-centric.”

With its withdrawal, the US will stop its contribution to WHO’s budget which, in 2018, amounted to 15 percent of WHO’s $4.2-billion budget. It will have to pay unpaid membership dues which, as of June 30, amounted to $198 million.
The global health community has expressed concern over the US withdrawal, especially at this time of the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO provides technical assistance to countries and coordinates responses to health emergencies. It has played a leading role in the past in the eradication of smallpox, the near-eradication of polio, and the development of an ebola vaccine. It is continuing its efforts against communicable diseases such as HIV-AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, as well as non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

The US withdrawal was deplored by the American Medical Association which called it a major setback for science, public health, and global coordination efforts needed to defeat COVID-19. “It puts the health of our country at grave risk,” it said.

In a letter to the US Congress, 750 experts in global health and international law said, “Withdrawal will likely cost lives, American and foreign, to COVID-19 by cutting crucial funds for WHO’s ongoing health emergencies program for testing, contact tracing, and vaccine development.”

The country’s Democratic Party leaders have been especially critical of President Trump’s move. Sen. Bob Menendez, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “it leaves Americans sick and America alone.” Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s nominee for president against President Trump of the Republican Party in the November election, said, “On my first day as president, I will rejoin the WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.”

President Trump has long been blaming China for the pandemic which has caused far more infections (over 3 million) and deaths (over 133,000) in the US than in any other country in the world today. He has been pressing the 50 American states to reopen after months of lockdown, but the result has been a surge in the number of cases in 33 states, notably Florida, Arizona, and Texas.

As a member of the World Health Organization, we join the rest of the nations of the world in deploring the US move to withdraw from the WHO, especially at this time when united world action is needed to stop the pandemic. The US withdrawal of support and membership is bound to affect the WHO’s ongoing programs.

In the face of the near-unanimous opposition to the move in the US, we hope the Trump administration will see the wisdom of withdrawing its announcement and join in intensified efforts to stop the coronavirus which the WHO is now coordinating to develop urgently needed vaccines and drugs.