Comment: U.S. withdrawal from WHO unlawful, threat to global health

Fifteen health and legal experts, including Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Dean Michelle Williams, have called President Trump’s move to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO) “reckless,” in violation of U.S. law, and a threat to global health and security.

Trump announced on May 29, 2020 that the U.S. would sever its relationship with WHO. On July 6, his administration officially notified the United Nations of the U.S. intent to withdraw effective July 6, 2021.

“The US Congress, the courts, and the public all have the power to block this reckless decision,” the experts wrote in a July 8, 2020 comment in The Lancet, arguing that Congressional approval is needed to approve the withdrawal.

The authors noted that withdrawal from WHO “would have dire consequences for US security, diplomacy, and influence.” For example, they said that withdrawal from WHO would mean the U.S. would be cut out of the global system to design annual influenza vaccines. They also noted that WHO is deeply involved in work to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, and that “if the USA does not participate in these WHO initiatives, Americans could have limited access to scarce vaccine supplies.” U.S. membership in WHO is also crucial for the global response to other disease outbreaks and for curtailing infectious diseases, they wrote.

The authors acknowledged that “COVID-19 has revealed shortcomings in WHO’s powers and funding, warranting substantial reforms.” But they argued that leaving WHO would leave the U.S. in a position of being “on the outside looking in,” thus reducing U.S. influence to promote those reforms.

“The USA cannot cut ties with WHO without incurring major disruption and damage, making Americans far less safe,” the authors wrote. “That is the last thing the global community needs as the world faces a historic health emergency.”

Read the Lancet comment: US withdrawal from WHO is unlawful and threatens global and US health and security

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U.S. withdrawal from WHO could harm global public health (Harvard Chan School news)