GENEVA — Nations and public health critics on Wednesday denounced the Trump administration’s announcement that it will leave the 194-nation World Health Organization next year as an irresponsible and wrong-headed move away from international cooperation.
Several European ministers, Chinese officials and public health advocates reacted to U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal notice to United Nations a day earlier by describing it as an impediment to the world’s disease-fighting efforts during a pandemic and to the United States’ own health programs and standing. The U.S. pullout from WHO would take effect on July 6, 2021.
“U.S. withdrawal from WHO is a setback for international cooperation,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn. “Global infection dynamics show that coordinated action is required. We need more international cooperation to fight pandemics, not less. European states will initiate WHO reforms.”
Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the COVID-19 “health crisis has shown us that a reformed and stronger WHO is needed, not a weaker one. This is why Trump’s choice is serious and wrong.”
Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said what the world needs is “more multilateralism and less national sovereignty as a guarantee for protecting our citizens, even if that means that we go against what others have said in other parts of the world.”
The Trump administration’s formal notice to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday launched a year-long legal process requiring the United States to pay its debts to the U.N. health agency.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a regular press briefing that Trump “has made very clear we are not going to underwrite an organization that has historically been incompetent and not performed its fundamental function.”
Trump has repeatedly sought to scapegoat the U.N. health agency and China for the United States’ staggering 3 million coronavirus infections and more than 130,000 deaths, by far the most of any nation in the world, that have resulted in part from a failure in White House leadership. There are now 11.9 million infections and more than 545,000 deaths worldwide.
Pompeo, however, said the administration was focused on the “failures” by Chinese offiicals and WHO to prevent the spread of COVID-19 after it was first detected in Wuhan, China late last year.
“The World Health Organization has a long history of corruption and politicization. And it’s not that it doesn’t get some pieces of their program right. That’s certainly true,” Pompeo told the news briefing. “But on balance, this is an organization that has not been able to deliver on its core mission for decades.
The Republican president’s presumptive Democratic challenger in the November 3 presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, has said that if he is elected, he will overturn the withdrawal decision on his first day in office next January 2o.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a regular press conference that this is “another example of the U.S. being a pursuer of unilateralism and a quitter from treaties and organizations.”
“The U.S. withdrawal will undercut international combat against the virus, which will have particularly severe impact on developing countries that are in urgent need of international support,” he said. “We urge the U.S. to fulfill its due international responsibilities and obligations and behave as a responsible major country.”
The United States, Britain and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are WHO’s top backers. The United States contributes US$450 million a year — including US$118 million in mandatory dues — towards WHO’s more than US$4 billion budget, according to WHO budget figures.
Wellcome Trust, a U.K.-based charity that promotes global understanding of science, said the global response to COVID-19 will be weaker without the expertise of U.S. public health leaders.
“It is unthinkable and highly irresponsible to withdraw funding from the WHO during one of the greatest health challenges of our lifetime,” said the trust’s director, Jeremy Farrar, a British medical researcher.