ONEn American withdrawal from the World Health Organization could lead to major damage to the global effort to eradicate polio and could undermine the world’s ability to detect and respond to disease threats, health experts warned.
Experts, from the United States and beyond, are upset by President Trump’s announced intention to leave the organization, which he publicly blames for not being harsh on China during the first days of the Covid-19 pandemic – at a time when he was self-praising China’s outstanding efforts to control the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The agency has not yet commented on Trump’s announcement.
If it leaves the organization, set up in 1
“The United States has always had an extraordinary influence at WHO – I mean to the extent that other countries have complained about American influence,” Ilona Kickbusch, a long-time WHO official and chair of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva .
In fact, as the WHO underwent a series of reforms following its disastrous early response to the 2014 West West African Ebola outbreak – including establishing a permanent health care program – many of the changes implemented to preserve the United States said, said Ashish Jha, chief for Harvard’s Global Health Institute.
The lines for WHO staff are swollen by Americans, some directly employed – for example, Stewart Simonson, one of the agency’s deputy secretaries-general – others on posting from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other agencies. Were the US to withdraw from the WHO, it is unclear what would happen to the Americans in its rankings – including Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s leading expert on coronaviruses, who flanks Director General Tedros’s Adhamon Gheybreyesus during the agency’s Covid 19 press conferences three times a week .
“Just think about it: Maria Van Kerkhove, would she have to leave WHO now?” asked Amanda Glassman, CEO of the Center for Global Development. “Is that our goal? Because the US employees will not be there. American citizens would not be eligible for employment. So we basically give up the lead for the Covid-19 response. “
US experts also play key roles in most WHO advisory committees; the country has a seat on the WHO Board. When the WHO has set up emergency committees to determine whether this or that outbreak is a global threat – a public health crime of international concern, or a PHEIC – there is almost always at least one American in the panel. Whether American expertise would be so central after the country’s withdrawal is unclear.
“The United States has played a major role in global health … across a range of issues,” Jha said. “And I think its absence at the WHO would really hurt the organization.”
Retreating during a pandemic – or even threatening, should the president resign, or Congress find a way to block the movement – is fruitless, says Tom Bollyky, director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Avoiding incoming attacks by a US president during a pandemic is a detrimental distraction for the agency at a time when it is stressed like never before, he suggested. If the US withdraws and weakens the WHO, it will in turn undermine the health authority’s ability to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, which could extend it.
While the United States has placed high hopes on early access to vaccines for Americans, the reality is that as long as Covid-19 collapses around the world, supply chains will disrupt, the global economy will be stressed and international travel will remain dangerous. Until the outbreak is global, the risks that the virus entails are felt everywhere – among the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
“If we were to achieve this, we would reduce funding, but we would also reduce all international coordination on the response to this pandemic, which in turn will make the lives of Americans less secure every day. It’s a disastrous decision, ”Bollyky said.
In addition to the pandemic, health programs that the United States has long advocated – whether it’s fighting the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis, trying to stop the spread of HIV or curb the attack of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria – are weakened by a US withdrawal from WHO, a former David Heymann said. WHO official, who led the agency’s response to the 2003 SARS outbreak.
Heymann, who for some time oversaw the global eradication program for polio, fears that particular efforts will be made if the United States leaves the WHO. It is a critical time for the long-standing effort to liberate the polio world. while only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – continue to see the spread of wild polio, vaccination efforts have been halted due to the pandemic.
“The polio eradication program is very close, with many strong donors to it, and the United States has been one of the most faithful and strong. And it would be a shame not only for the United States but also for Rotary International, which has also provided so much funding for it, says Heymann, an American who heads a committee that advises on WHO’s health care program.