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The Opinion

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US Withdrawal from the World Health Organization: Problems and Consequences

By Simran Kaur

This article primarily talks about the consequences of US withdrawal from the WHO at this weak pandemic time. It gives a review of the problems which the US may face during the coming years. Its analysis doesn’t restrict towards a political view but also gives a broader perspective in the research area as well. It also delves upon the impact on WHO and the initial work done by it.

Introduction

The United States was amongst the initial supporters for establishing an international agency whose primary role is to direct and coordinate international health system within the United Nation norms after the Second World War. World Health Organization was established by the Constitution on 7th April 1948 with its main objective as ‘the attainment by all people of the highest possible level of health.’ Its goal is to ensure that, “billion more people have universal health coverage, to protect a billion more people from medical emergencies, and to provide a billion more people with better health and well being”.

WHO with the contribution of its 194 Member States, across six regions, and from more than 150 offices has helped to combat communicable diseases like — HIV, Ebola, malaria, tuberculosis , and many non communicable diseases like- cancer and heart disease. Since the beginning, US has been a major source of assessed and voluntary financial contribution towards its annual funding. The United States is the biggest patron to the annual budget of the World Health Organization, 15 percent of its total funding over the last two years has been contributed by them. In FY 2018–19 US alone roughly donated USD 450million.

Trump’s Move

Mentioning the global outbreak of Novel Covid-19 Pandemic, President Trump on 18th May, 2020 has menaced to freeze the annual funding of WHO and also review the membership of United States with the organization unless the agency “can actually illustrate independence from china” within the coming 30 days.

The White House accuses Chinese officials of ignoring their obligations of reporting about the global pandemic to the WHO on time. Since the commencement, US officials have been escalating their charges of WHO’s slow response towards the threat, and fully influenced by China. WHO is alleged to have contributed to the rise of Coronavirus as they failed to take necessary steps being advised by the UN body. Trump accuses China of hiding the correct scenario of the pandemic in regard to saving its position in front of the whole world.

On 29th May 2020 Donald Trump has officially notified WHO about US withdrawal from the organization and promised to cut almost USD 350 million on funding as he blames China of having dominance over WHO. The US President has claimed that, if WHO would have been more sincere towards its work in pressurizing China for sharing needful information related to Coronavirus with the world, then no country would have suffered such great loss of lives. When WHO is not victorious in its objective and US is not profited through its functioning, then ‘why should it spend roughly USD 400 million every year which can be used for other global health projects’ was the question raised by President Trump.

An Unfavoured Decision

Trump’s move has been slammed by critics for pulling out the funds at the mid of such novel pandemic. US health experts have condemned this decision by expressing the need for an international body like WHO to oversee relationships between countries and keep the data flowing. The UN Secretary, General António Guterres has also criticized this sudden move, saying, there’s no such time to halt the funds to the WHO and full support must be provided from every possible source, else it will become impossible to win the war against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He further added, “the international community should work together in solidarity to stop this virus.”

The termination of membership will be a yearlong process as various factors are expected to arise. Firstly, a one-year prior notice needs to be given by the member states before withdrawal and no further alteration can be done on the promised voluntary funds. The US Presidential Election in November 2020 is another factor which can hinder Trump’s decision. If Trump loses and the Democratic challenger, Joe Biden wins the election then the US will remain as the member of WHO as Joe Biden has publicly announced to reverse the withdrawal order.

The impact of this huge step can be seen in loss of collaborations. US health researchers and experts are also indulged in many policy making and research bodies of the organization. Many of the US researchers are members of WHO’s advisory body, counting those on the novel Covid-19. US institutions work with WHO through collaborating centres to observe influenza and assist in developing vaccines. The termination will drift apart the long lasting collaborations between both of them. Countless health policy experts, epidemiologists, and other visiting scholars of the US rely upon their WHO’s colleagues for necessary information while many work with the organization itself. There will be a huge impact on the 80 official collaborative centres in the US. The jobs of all such health experts will be drained indirectly which will eventually strike the position of the US in front of the world.

US government furnishes 19% of the annual budget for tackling HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and vaccine preventable disease like measles; 27% of the budget for polio eradication; and 23% for other health emergency operations. All these initiatives will shrink up due to lack of proper funding which will surge the counts of death and suffering around the world. Profits earned through thousands of vaccination camps will be lost within an eyeblink. The investment made by the US from the beginning will be of no use.

Future Implications

WHO will suffer a huge monetary loss but eventually, it will survive the same within a short span of time as the other members will try to fill the financial gap for its proper functioning during the pandemic, but over the years, the US will lose its power in the world. US scientific partnership around the world will be damaged. Its termination from the organization would be the first step towards losing the influence over global health initiatives which will deprive them of their powers of distributing Coronavirus drugs and vaccines when they become available. An omission to provide the voluntary funds will result in losing its influence over the organization and if the US withdraws all his assessed and voluntary financial contribution, then it will lose its voting rights.

This will create a vacuum which will be taken by other member countries like China to surpass the US. Eventually, the US will lose its potential to mould the health plans at the international level, which the Trump administration is protesting about and we will witness a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, WHO has lessons to learn but the US management needs to understand the consequences of this withdrawal in the long run from both the perspectives. Trump’s accusations of controlling WHO by the Chinese officials can only be improved, when the US has the power to shape the health agendas in the world. Therefore, Policymakers must be forced to alter this threatening decision within a reasonable time and advise the US administration to back independent evaluation as being done by the other active members at the WHO Assembly.

The US should also support the recommended changes in WHO’s functioning to cure the ongoing pandemic instead of turning its back completely. If, as expected, the Trump administration does instruct a withdrawal, then WHO should reserve the country’s place so that the US can swiftly come back when a succeeding President makes a sage decision.

Simran Kaur B.B.A.L.L.B.(2nd year); IFIM Law School, Bengaluru

You can find her on Instagram.

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