Healthcare, Congressional Leaders Condemn Trump’s Plan to Cut Off WHO

May 30, 2020
Major nationwide healthcare associations, medical experts, and congressional leaders criticized President Trump’s announcement of his plan to sever ties with the World Health Organization

On Friday, May 29, major nationwide healthcare associations, medical experts, and congressional leaders criticized President Trump’s announcement of his plan to sever ties with the World Health Organization, after he had made that announcement during a brief appearance in the White House’s Rose Garden.

As the Associated Press reported on Friday afternoon, “President Donald Trump said Friday that the U.S. will be terminating its relationship with the World Health Organization, saying it had failed to adequately respond to the coronavirus because China has ‘total control’ over the global organization. He said Chinese officials ‘ignored’ their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressured the WHO to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered. He noted that the U.S. contributes about $450 million to the world body while China provides about $40 million.”

The AP’s report noted that “The U.S. is the largest source of financial support to the WHO and its exit is expected to significantly weaken the organization. Trump said the U.S. would be ‘redirecting’ the money to ‘other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs,’ without providing specifics.”

Further, Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski and Lauren Clason quoted Trump as stating that “China has total control over the World Health Organization, despite only paying $40 million per year, compared to what the United States has been paying, which is approximately $450 million a year.”

National healthcare associations criticized the announcement. The Chicago-based American Medical Association (AMA), which represents about 240,000 practicing physicians in the United States, released a statement on Friday afternoon that it attributed to Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., the association’s president. “In the grip of a global pandemic that has already killed more than 100,000 Americans, severing ties with the World Health Organization (WHO) serves no logical purpose and makes finding a way out of this public health crisis dramatically more challenging,” Dr. Harris said. “This senseless action will have significant, harmful repercussions now and far beyond this perilous moment, particularly as the WHO is leading worldwide vaccine development and drug trials to combat the pandemic. COVID-19 affects us all and does not respect borders; defeating it requires the entire world working together. In the strongest terms possible, the American Medical Association urges the president to reverse course and not abandon our country’s leadership position in the global fight against COVID-19,” she added.

It could also endanger children, the Washington, D.C.-based American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 67,000 pediatricians nationwide, said. "The Trump Administration's decision to withdraw from the WHO carries grave risks for the world's children during an unprecedented global health crisis,” Mark Del Monte, CEO of the AAP, said in a statement. “The decision to withdraw risks causing a surge in polio cases and an increase in deaths of children from malaria, and it will further delay life-saving vaccination campaigns," Del Monte added.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Arlington, Va.-based Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), representing more than 12,000 infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists, and public health leaders, spoke out on Friday, May 29, condemning President Donald Trump for his announcement that the United States will be ending its relationship with the World Health Organization.

In response to the president’s announcement, the IDSA released a statement under the signature of Thomas M. File, Jr., M.D., FIDSA, the society’s president. Dr. File stated that, “As infectious diseases physicians on the front line of combating the current global crisis we stand strongly against President Trump’s decision to leave the World Health Organization. This pandemic has demonstrated that neither national boundaries nor political positions can protect us from the spread of an infectious disease. We will not succeed against this pandemic, or any future outbreak, unless we stand together, share information, and coordinate actions.”

What’s more, The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant on Friday quoted Professor Lawrence O. Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University who has served on various WHO expert advisory committees, who said that the move would make Americans and the world less safe. “Just at a time when we need unity at the World Health Organization, the president of the United States has thrown a hand grenade in the middle of a pandemic," Gostin said.

Blaming the World Health Organization

As the Washington Post’s David J. Lynch and Emily Rauhala reported, “In Rose Garden remarks, Trump alleged that the Chinese government covered up the coronavirus outbreak and said it instigated ‘a global pandemic that has cost more than 100,000 American lives and over 1 million lives worldwide.’ The president also attacked the World Health Organization, which he said was effectively controlled by Beijing.” And they quoted Trump as stating, “We will today be terminating our relationship” with the WHO, the president said, adding that the organization’s more than $400 million annual U.S. contribution would be diverted to other health groups.”

The Geneva-based World Health Organization states on its website that “We are building a better, healthier future for people all over the world. Working with 194 Member States, across six regions, and from more than 150 offices, WHO staff are united in a shared commitment to achieve better health for everyone, everywhere. Together we strive to combat diseases – communicable diseases like influenza and HIV, and noncommunicable diseases like cancer and heart disease. We help mothers and children survive and thrive so they can look forward to a healthy old age. We ensure the safety of the air people breathe, the food they eat, the water they drink – and the medicines and vaccines they need. WHO began when our Constitution came into force on 7 April 1948 – a date we now celebrate every year as World Health Day.”

The organization also notes that “We are now more than 7000 people working in 150 country offices, in six regional offices and at our headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.”

In addition, a powerful members of Congress spoke out. Senator Lamar Alexander, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee released a statement on Friday. “I disagree with the president’s decision,” Sen. Alexander said in the statement. “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. 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. And withdrawing could make it harder to work with other countries to stop viruses before they get to the United States.”

His comments were echoed those of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat who has often shown a willingness to work with Trump and Republicans. "The United States cannot eliminate this virus on our own and to withdraw from the World Health Organization -- the world's leading public health body -- is nothing short of reckless," Manchin said in a statement. "Throughout our nation's history, the United States has always risen to lead the world through crisis and I believe we must continue to do that now.” And, he told Roll Call’s Lesniewski and Clason that “The entire world is battling COVID-19 right now and in West Virginia, we continue to see additional cases reported. The United States cannot eliminate this virus on our own and to withdraw from the World Health Organization — the world’s leading public health body — is nothing short of reckless,” Manchin said. “Throughout our nation’s history, the United States has always risen to lead the world through crisis and I believe we must continue to do that now.”

This was not the first time that President Trump’s statements or actions around the WHO had elicited an outcry. As CNN’s Kylie Atwood had reported on April 24, “More than 1,000 organizations and individuals including charities, medical experts and healthcare companies from around the world have written to the White House arguing the Trump administration should reverse course and keep funding the World Health Organization (WHO). They had made the case that the coronavirus pandemic can't be brought under control without the WHO.

"The United States cannot rid this insidious virus from the country, nor around the world, without WHO," the letter addressed to President Donald Trump, and sent to the White House…says. "WHO is the only organization with the technical capacity and global mandate to support the public health response of all countries during this critical time."

As CNN’s Atwood had reported on Apr. 24, “Signatories include influential companies and groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Oxfam, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American Public Health Association and the healthcare company Kaiser Permanente.”

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