Update: The US has officially passed 3 million cases of Covid-19.
The Trump Administration has officially notified the United Nations of the withdrawal of the United States from the World Health Organization (WHO). This comes as the US is about to cross the unprecedented threshold of 3 million Covid-19 cases, double that of the next highest country. Since March, the US has been the consistent leading country globally in the number of cases and deaths (double that of the next highest country), after failing to contain the spread of the virus.
The move was previously announced by President Donald Trump in May to the concern of many scientists, health, and medical professionals. The withdrawal process will take a year, and it is expected to take effect on July 6, 2021. Out of the WHO, the US will not have access to critical intelligence and information regarding current and upcoming diseases. This would be egregious move at any time but is bewildering in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed over 130,000 Americans so far, with signs of transmission speeding up not slowing down.
Many experts believe that in attacking the global health agency, Trump is attempting to shift the blame for his own mishandling of the pandemic. In his four-page letter to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, Trump demonstrably lied about when the world, and thus the WHO, became aware of the virus, accusing the agency of acting too late by ignoring reports published in The Lancet medical journal in early December 2019. The Lancet has declared this statement false as it had not published any reports on the virus in December, its earliest report being in late January 2020.
The US moved to declare Covid-19 a Public Health Emergency on January 31, one day after the WHO declared it a global health emergency. From the very beginning, senators have issued vocal concerns that the administration was not taking the risk seriously. Trump has changed his own position at dizzying speed, claiming the pandemic was a hoax, that it was real but “very much under control”, it would just disappear in April, and again in July, and that the US has the best numbers on Covid in the world. Just a few weeks ago, he admitted he had asked officials to slow down testing to reduce reported case numbers. Testing and tracing are of course crucial to curbing the spread of the disease.
The withdrawal from the WHO has caused bipartisan concern in Congress. Senators disagree with the president's decision and they believe it is putting America at risk.
"I disagree with the president's decision. 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,” Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said in a statement.
"Withdrawing US 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," he added. "And withdrawing could make it harder to work with other countries to stop viruses before they get to the United States."
These sentiments are echoed by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, who stated: “Refusing to work with our partners across the world to fight this pandemic will only prolong the crisis, further undermine our international standing, and leave us less prepared for future crises. President Trump needs to realize this crisis doesn’t recognize borders and hiding from it or passing the blame won’t make it go away or make him any less responsible.”
The US is the largest contributor to the WHO, responsible for 15 percent of its funding. The loss of funds will be a blow to the global health agency, but without access to the WHO, the US is not only losing out on information about the Covid-19 pandemic but also about diseases such as Ebola, HIV/AIDS, and many more.