The United States on Tuesday officially submitted its notification of withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) to the United Nations secretary-general, which has been widely criticized by public health experts.
As global COVID-19 infections top 12 million, with a vaccine still not in sight, Washington’s decision was “disastrous” for national interests and the departure would weaken American influence on international health diplomacy, Lawrence O. Gostin, the director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said in a statement.
“It will make Americans less safe during an unprecedented global health crisis,” Gostin added.
Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, considered it as “an extraordinarily bad decision that will both harm global public health and harm the health of the American people.”
“It’s unclear to me how the American people benefit by not being at the table and not being able to shape those policies,” the expert was quoted as saying by the New York Times.
Washington’s blame on the WHO for not investigating the COVID-19 outbreak in China is “deeply disingenuous,” Jha said. “WHO can’t push its way into China, any more than it can investigate why our outbreak is so bad in Arizona or why we’re botching the response as badly as we are.”
He also called on the White House to adhere to science, encourage people to wear masks and conduct social distancing as the country has reported more than 3 million COVID-19 cases with over 132,000 deaths, which are far higher than those in any other country or region, according to the latest Johns Hopkins University tally.
“There’s been a lot of mixed messaging on masks and social distancing and so all of that has contributed to what I think is a perilous moment for our country,” Jha said.
Amanda Glassman, a public health expert and executive vice president of the Center for Global Development think tank, noted that the world doesn’t just face today’s threat of COVID-19 but also the threat of future pandemics, which are more likely because of increased zoonotic transmission.
“Withdrawal is counterintuitive at best and dangerous to human life at worst,” Glassman told USA Today. “The U.S. Congress should immediately explore what power it has to prevent this from happening.”
She noted that the probability of a high lethality strain of influenza in the next decade or so is also significant, adding that corrective measures at the WHO are needed and member states’ staying engaged is necessary.
Gayle Smith, president and CEO of The ONE Campaign, an advocacy group focused on improving global health and eliminating poverty, suggested that the United States should use its influence to strengthen the WHO, “not abandon it at a time when the world needs it most.”
U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly assailed the WHO for months and threatened to cut ties with the organization. Trump also announced in mid-April that his administration would halt U.S. funding to the WHO.
The United States will leave the WHO on July 6, 2021, and currently owes the organization more than 200 million U.S. dollars in assessed contributions, according to the WHO website. Enditem