President Trump hosts a White House event Tuesday on reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS
Trump Moves to Pull U.S. Out of World Health Organization in Midst of Covid-19 Pandemic
| le 8 July 2020
The exit won’t take effect until next July; Biden says U.S. would remain in WHO if he’s elected
By Drew Hinshaw and
Stephanie Armour – The Wall Street Journal
The U.S. has formally notified the World Health Organization it will withdraw from the United Nations agency over President Trump’s criticism of its ties to China, a move critics say will hamper the international fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and sap the U.S. of global influence.
The U.S. State Department sent notice to the U.N. on July 6 it would end its 72-year-old membership in the WHO. “The President has been clear that the WHO needs to get its act together,” a department spokesman said. “That starts with demonstrating significant progress and the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks with transparency and accountability.”
The exit won’t take effect until next July, leaving it contingent on Mr. Trump’s re-election. His rival for the White House, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, said Tuesday the U.S. would remain a member if he wins.
The president says the WHO, the U.N.’s chief global health institution, is under China’s sway and has failed to respond adequately to the coronavirus pandemic. He has said the U.S. would redirect the funds it currently sends the WHO to other “deserving, urgent global public-health needs” because the agency failed to make reforms the U.S. had requested.
“They’re a puppet of China,” Mr. Trump said in May at the White House. “They give us a lot of bad advice.”
The notice of withdrawal came as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Tuesday that the “outbreak is clearly accelerating and we haven’t reached the peak.” The organization noted that more than 400,000 new cases of coronavirus had been recorded globally over the past weekend, a number that had taken 12 weeks to reach at the beginning of the outbreak.
The U.S. death toll topped 130,000 as of Tuesday. The country has 39.72 deaths per 100,000 residents, which places it among the top 10 countries in the world in that metric, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
On Tuesday, public health officials, legal scholars and members of Congress from both parties condemned the move, arguing that during the Covid-19 crisis it would cost lives, hinder U.S. access to the global system for sharing outbreak data and vaccine research, and give China more sway over the U.N.
“Certainly there needs to be a good, hard look at mistakes the World Health Organization might have made in connection with coronavirus, but the time to do that is after the crisis has been dealt with, not in the middle of it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Senate health committee.
In a statement released on Twitter, Mr. Biden said, “Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health. On my first day as President, I will rejoin the WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.”
Rep. James Comer (R., Ky.), ranking member of the House oversight committee, supported the Trump administration’s decision. “China lied, the WHO complied, and Americans died,” he said in a statement.
The U.S. withdrawal would be a seismic event for the global public health regime and for America’s position within the multilateral world order. The U.S. is the single largest donor to the WHO, giving about $450 million a year, much of it earmarked for specific diseases such as polio, which has nearly been eradicated.
A U.S. exit would eliminate that funding going forward and leave the WHO more dependent on private donors, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, its second-largest contributor. It would accelerate a shift in which global health increasingly relies on a handful of billionaire donors and charities, with national governments reluctant to offer more taxpayer funds, public health experts have said.
The withdrawal would also reinforce a sense among Western leaders that the U.S. is retreating from the U.N. system while China grows in influence. Authorities in France, Japan, and Australia shared Mr. Trump’s frustration that the WHO was too quick to praise China in the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in May more than 150 governments backed a proposal to audit the agency’s perceived failures.
Since April, Mr. Trump has sharply criticized the WHO, whose senior officials commended China’s draconian and ultimately effective measures to quash the virus. Mr. Trump has accused the agency of helping China conceal the spread of the respiratory disease in its early weeks. The WHO—a small agency with few inspection powers—says it relies on national governments such as China’s to accurately report outbreaks. The WHO says it made the information coming out of China available to Washington and to the many U.S. government employees posted to the Geneva-based U.N. agency.
“We sounded the alarm early and we sounded it often,” Dr. Tedros has said.
The WHO said it was aware of the announcement. “We have no further information on this at this stage,” said spokesman Tarik Jasarevic.
The WHO’s founding documents contain no provision for countries to leave the agency, because its founders didn’t anticipate any country would want to. No government has ever left.
The 1948 act of Congress that authorized U.S. membership in the WHO required the country to give notice one year in advance of its intent to withdraw. Meanwhile, U.S. government employees continue to work at the WHO’s headquarters in Switzerland.
The effort to quit the WHO could be open to a legal or congressional challenge, said Harold Koh, a professor at Yale Law School who specializes in international law.
The U.S. also would have to pay any outstanding financial obligations, under the 1948 congressional act. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is assessing American compliance, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The formal announcement moves the Trump administration one step closer to its goal of creating an alternative global health structure outside the boundaries of the U.N. system. Administration officials have floated the idea of creating an office within the State Department tasked with responding to pandemics. Previously, a similar office was situated in the National Security Council until it was disbanded in 2018. The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.