Who Will Stand Up for the World Health Organization?
United Church of Christ – Wider Church Ministries
Humanitarian Development Team
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Briefing
Barbara T. Baylor, MPH – Temporary Health Liaison
Editor’s Note: Beginning today, the UCC COVID-19 Daily Briefing is going to three times a week. Barbara T. Baylor, MPH, will continue to separate facts from falsehoods and fear in articles on diverse facets of the pandemic crisis, including disparities in healthcare and health outcomes.
Who Will Stand Up for the World Health Organization?
Includes advocacy opportunity, below.
COVID-19 research and treatment could be hampered if the United States withdraws its membership and its funding from the World Health Organization (W.H.O.). But on May 29, President Donald Trump said he would do just that.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health. It was established in 1948 and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The United States is one of this body’s founders and helped to build it. U.S. participation is by long-established treaty arrangement.
If the President follows through with his stated intentions, I believe that this may be one of the untimeliest decisions ever made as we continue to battle one of the most infectious diseases of our time – COVID-19. This novel coronavirus has now infected more than 6 million people, with nearly 375,000 deaths worldwide. In the United States, the toll has reached almost 2 million cases and has surpassed 100,000 deaths.
Trump’s stated reasons for the exodus – all somewhat vague, unclear, complicated and political – are centered on two major accusations, that the W.H.O.:
1) failed to warn the world of the COVID-19 dangers in a timely manner, and
2): knew in December 2019 that the virus could be spread by human-to-human transmission.
In a letter to the W.H.O. on May 18, President Trump issued a warning that he would reconsider the United States’ membership if improvements were not made within 30 days. But after only 11 days, he announced, on May 29, that he was giving the W.H.O. no more time to make changes. It is unclear why the President changed his plan.
According to an NPR piece – Fact-Checking and Assessing Trump’s Letter of Rebuke to WHO, it was China that did not comply with international health regulations to report a risk of a health emergency within 24 hours. China delayed reporting the mysterious cases until December 31. Can the W.H.O. be blamed for China’s delay in reporting?
In addition, even though it was strongly suspected that the virus could be spread via human-to-human transmission, no definitive conclusion was reached until mid-January when preliminary research from Taiwan determined that this form of pneumonia could indeed spread human to human.
W.H.O. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has stressed that there were many unknowns when the outbreak surfaced – and that many unknowns remain. Decisions were made based on information provided at that time and on what was known about similar viruses of this kind. The W.H.O. declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
Many ask, “Can the President really do this?”
The WHO Constitution lacks an explicit withdrawal provision. So when the U.S. Congress passed a Joint Resolution (Public Law 643, 80th Congress, June 14, 1948) authorizing President Harry Truman to accept U.S. membership in the W.H.O., it specified that the United States would not withdraw from the W.H.O. except upon satisfaction of two conditions:
1) giving a one-year notice, and
2) providing that financial obligations are met in full for the current fiscal year.
As a result of this signing, the U S. was granted membership.
Statements by the Infectious Disease Society of America and a former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscore the fact that it is counterproductive for the United States – at the epicenter of this global pandemic – to withdraw from the organization dedicated to fighting global pandemics.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has said, “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.”
For over 70 years, the 194 countries that are members of the W.H.O. have worked together to control the spread of and eradicate diseases like cholera, smallpox, polio, malaria, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, and Ebola, and to improve maternal and child health, nutrition and environmental hygiene.
Experts are concerned that a termination of membership by the United States at this time may lead to barriers in the flow of information on COVID-19. Scientific partnerships around the world would also be damaged, and the United States could lose influence over global health initiatives and clinical trials, including those to distribute drugs and vaccines for the new coronavirus as they become available.
* Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
* The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.
* Governments have a responsibility for the health of their people, which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.
As COVID-19 continues to ravage the world, we can fight it by staying connected and supporting a global humanitarian approach. A termination will make the global COVID-19 response harder to coordinate.
TAKE ACTION: The President may need Congressional approval to terminate membership. Therefore, I urge you tell the White House and your U.S. senators and representative that the United States must remain a leader in investing in a healthier world.
Essential to this is continuing U.S. financial support for the W.H.O. and working together with member organizations on global health challenges to make the world a safer and healthier place. The best way to do this right now is remain a member of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.).