Global Health Community Fights Back on US Withdrawal from WHO

A sign outside the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. May 29, 2020.  Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty
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A sign outside the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. May 29, 2020. Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

US President Trump gave formal notice of his intent to withdraw the US from the WHO yesterday, the AP reports, setting off a round of denunciations.

“Coinciding with the highest ever single day spikes in COVID-19 cases, Trump's move to withdraw from the World Health Organization is among the most ruinous presidential decisions in recent history,” says Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University's O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

750+ global health scholars and experts joined him on a letter urging Congressto block the withdrawal, saying it will cost lives—American and foreign—and underscoring additional consequences:

  • The US would lose access to the WHO’s global system for sharing critical outbreak data and vaccines

  • The US funds the largest portion of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, pulling the rug out from under key pandemic response efforts and putting the rest of the world and risk

  • Less capacity to detect and control future outbreaks, marking a new era of pandemic risk


The UN chief is now reviewing whether US has met conditions for WHO withdrawal, according to Devex. There is a 1-year notification period, so the withdrawal would not take effect until July 6, 2021.

“This is an irresponsible and dangerous action at any time but particularly so in the midst of a pandemic. We need to make our voices heard loud and clear in opposition to this decision,” write Consortium of Universities for Global Health officers led by Keith Martin in a call to action urging CUGH members to push the message “far and wide.”

The IDEAInitiative also offers fact sheets on the consequences of defunding WHO and PAHO; the website ProtectHealthNow.org details more steps people opposed to the withdrawal can take.

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