The White House has formally notified the United Nations that it is pulling the United States out of the World Health Organization, despite the surging number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
President Donald Trump froze U.S. funding for the WHO in April and a month later announced his intentions to drop out. He accused the organization of having a pro-China bias in its handling of the coronavirus outbreak and demanded reforms.
“We have detailed the reforms that it must make and engaged 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 the relationship,” Trump said in May.
Under WHO rules, any country leaving the organization must give one year’s notice. If Trump loses the November election, the next president could decide to remain.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said if he is elected in November, he will rejoin the WHO “on my first day as president … and restore our leadership on the world stage.” Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health, Biden said.
The United States leads the world with the most COVID-19 cases – nearly 3 million and close to 131,000 deaths.
But Trump and other conservative critics of the WHO accuse the organization of spreading what they say was Chinese misinformation about the coronavirus early in the pandemic, including allegations that China deliberately tried to downplay the dangers of the coronavirus and how it can spread through human-to-human contact.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of the Senate’s health committee said the world has to look at the mistakes the WHO made in dealing with the virus, “but the time to do that is after the crisis has been dealt with, not in the middle of it.”
U.S. health experts call the president’s decision to turn his back on the WHO shortsighted and destructive of decades of cooperation in fighting all diseases.
“Abandoning our seat at the table leaves the United States out of global decision-making to combat the virus and global efforts to develop and access vaccines and therapeutics, leaving us more vulnerable to COVID-19 while diminishing our position as the leader in global health,” Thomas File Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said. “Without the WHO, the nation is at higher risk of being inadequately prepared for many health risks of pandemic proportions.”
United Nations Foundation President Elizabeth Cousens said the World Health Organization is the only body capable of coordinating a global response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“A U.S. 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 United States,” she said.
Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi condemned Trump’s decision as one of “true senselessness,” she tweeted. “With millions of lives at risk, the president is crippling the international effort to defeat the virus.”
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said abandoning the WHO will leave “Americans sick and Americans alone.”
The United States is a charter member of the WHO, which was founded in 1948, and has been its biggest donor.