The U.S. has sent a letter officially notifying the United Nations that it is leaving the World Health Organization, starting the formal process of withdrawal that President Trump first threatened in April when he halted funding to WHO.
President DonaldTrump and his administration have formally moved to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization after months of accusing it of inefficiency and corruption.
To leave the organization, the U.S. is supposed to give a one-year notice and pay outstanding dues, according to language that the U.S. added to the WHO constitution when it joined the treaty in 1948. As of June 30, the U.S. owed $198 million in unpaid membership dues.
The President had announced his intention to withdraw his country back in May after saying that “it failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms”. The President has also criticized the organization as being in the “total control” of China and encouraging misinformation in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
On May 29, he announced his decision to leave the organization, claiming that it caved to pressure from China “to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered by Chinese authorities” and that it’s under the “total control” of China.
While Trump promised that he would be “redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs”. Many legal scholars have questioned whether the president has the authority to withdraw the United States from WHO without congressional approval.
According to a tweet from Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Congress learned about the termination notification on Tuesday: “To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic & incoherent doesn’t do it justice. This won’t protect American lives or interests — it leaves Americans sick & America alone,” he wrote.
Menendez’s concerns have been echoed widely by doctors, diplomats and the global health community.
It is important to note, however, that given the timeline of withdrawal (one year), a successor to Trump in the elections later this year could possibly be able to reverse this decision.
The move comes as the US sits as the worst-hit country by the coronavirus, with Trump’s response to the coronavirus having been significantly criticized. Recently, Trump held a rally at Mt. Rushmore in which most attendees failed to wear masks or practice social distancing.
Trump has said the money the U.S. would have contributed to WHO will go to various global health initiatives.
But in a letter to Congress dated June 30, 750 experts in global health and international law said that “withdrawal will likely cost lives, American and foreign” to COVID-19 by cutting crucial funds to WHO’s health emergencies program for testing, contact tracing and vaccine development, and prolonging the pandemic.
Besides warning about the impact on efforts to control the pandemic, the letter predicted that a U.S. withdrawal could roll back years of progress combating diseases such as polio and HIV/AIDS.
The withdrawal may also jeopardize U.S. access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines, said Lindsay Wiley, a law professor at American University. “Given that our vaccine manufacturing capabilities within the U.S. are limited, to withdraw from the organization at this stage in the crisis, when we’re on the cusp of developing a safe and effective vaccine and thinking about how to distribute it, would be a dire mistake,” she said.