WASHINGTON — The United States has officially moved to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) as its national count of COVID-19 cases is approaching 3 million with over 130,000 deaths.
On Tuesday, Congress received formal notification of the decision from President Donald Trump, tweeted Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
“To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic & incoherent doesn’t do it justice. This won’t protect American lives or interests — it leaves Americans sick & America alone,” Menendez said.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, confirmed on Tuesday that the United States had submitted its withdrawal notification to Guterres on Monday.
According to the spokesman, the United States is a party to the WHO Constitution since June 1948, and its participation in the organization was accepted by the World Health Assembly “with certain conditions set out by the U.S. for its eventual withdrawal from the WHO.”
“The said conditions include giving a one-year notice and fully meeting the payment of assessed financial obligations,” said Dujarric.
Trump and his administration have repeatedly assailed the WHO for months and threatened to cut ties with the organization. In mid-April, he announced that his administration would halt U.S. funding to the international health agency.
The administration’s move “has few supporters, even from Republicans in Congress,” noted Lauren Clason in a story posted on Roll Call, a newspaper and website published in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
“I disagree with the president’s decision,” said Chair of Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Lamar Alexander — a top Republican — in a statement.
“Withdrawing U.S. membership could, among other things, interfere with clinical trials that are essential to the development of vaccines, which citizens of the United States, as well as others in the world, need,” said Alexander, the senior Senator from Tennessee.
According to a piece published by the Hill, public health experts and Democrats have also raised alarms that the decision may be “short-sighted and could undercut the global response to the pandemic.”
“The timing of the administration’s decision has drawn intense scrutiny and is likely to spur questions about U.S. involvement in global efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine,” said the Hill report.
“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,” said Thomas File, Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, in a statement.
“This decision is irresponsible, reckless, and utterly incomprehensible. Withdrawing from the @WHO in the midst of the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime is a self-destructive move. More Americans will be hurt by this careless choice,” tweeted Eric Swalwell, representative for California’s 15th congressional district in the House.
BEHIND THE DECISION
In the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, different groups in Washington have taken different stances on the WHO membership, against the backdrop of the forthcoming general elections scheduled for November.
As Trump pushed the withdrawal from the WHO, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, however, said he would rejoin the WHO immediately if he wins.
“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,” the former vice president tweeted.
Meanwhile, critics said behind Trump’s WHO attacks are “an attempt to deflect blame from his own mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak — and one that will end up hurting the U.S.,” said a report by USA Today on Tuesday.
“Deflecting blame onto the WHO won’t reverse the administration’s mistakes or undo the suffering our country has endured,” said Representative Eliot Engel for New York’s 16th congressional district.
“The president needs to get serious about stopping this pandemic’s lethal spread by restoring our membership in the WHO, ramping up testing, and encouraging everyone to practice social distancing and wear masks,” said Engel, also chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Amanda Glassman, a public health expert and executive vice president of the Center for Global Development think tank, warned the world is facing not only the current threat of COVID-19 but also the treat of future pandemics.
“Withdrawal is counterintuitive at best and dangerous to human life at worst. The U.S. Congress should immediately explore what power it has to prevent this from happening,” Glassman said.
“The U.S. should use its influence to strengthen and reform the WHO, not abandon it at a time when the world needs it most,” said Gayle Smith, who served on the National Security Council and other top positions in the Obama administration.