President Donald Trump’s decision to end ties with the World Health Organization due to their response to the coronavirus pandemic will ultimately damage US interests and empower international competitors, four global health experts said in the Senate on Tuesday.
Trump announced in late May that the United States will quit the UN health agency after weeks of threats to cut funding and accusations of favoritism against China. WHO defended its response to the pandemic by stating that it had warned Member States of the threat posed by the virus to the world and provided technical support to countries around the world.
Democratic lawmakers previously argued that the president did not have the power to withdraw the US or its funding from WHO without Congress action. A group of health experts testifying to Covid-19 and international pandemic preparedness recognized WHO’s weaknesses, but condemned the president’s decision as prejudicial to US interests.
“Better, but not perfect.”
“WHO’s response was imperfect, but that doesn’t mean it is in our interests or in the interests of the world that the United States leaves WHO,” said Dr. Ashish Jah, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Tuesday. “The global pandemic is just beginning, and the single largest commitment that I believe we all have is to protect the life and well-being of the American people and people around the world. And that is precisely why I believe that the administration’s decision to withdraw from WHO is so deeply unreasonable.
Ja, who described himself as “one of WHO’s toughest critics” for the agency’s misuse of the Ebola outbreak in 2014 in West Africa, added that “WHO’s response to Covid-19 was better, but not perfect.” He said his biggest criticism of WHO’s response to Covid-19 is that the agency over-praised China, which is “not commendable.”
Jah said that WHO is indispensable in many parts of the world and has unique relationships with many ministries of health, especially in developing countries.
“During this pandemic, when we have many, many difficult months ahead, I believe that moving away from WHO makes global control of the virus more difficult and makes managing this virus harder here, at home,” he said. “Moving away from WHO leaves us without a voice at the table to better cope with the disease around the world.”
Trust in the USA
With or without WHO, the United States will have to pave the way for an international response to pandemic preparedness, former director of the United States Agency for International Development Jeremy Konyndyk told lawmakers. According to him, the virus that could provoke a pandemic will come again, and now countries need to invest in global surveillance.
“It is impossible to imagine that the United States will succeed in such an ambitious pandemic preparedness program without the full involvement of the World Health Organization, and, frankly, it is hard to imagine that the rest of the world will work with us on these efforts if they see this as an Alternative to the United States or a competitor, not an addition and supporter or partner of the World Health Organization, ”he said. “The US withdrawal from the World Health Organization will be tragic and completely unjustified.”
Konindyk added that the United States is not in a position to lead any competing organization at WHO, given the country’s response to the pandemic.
The United States has reported more cases and deaths than any other country in the world. While many countries in Europe and Asia have managed to reduce the spread of the virus to a level where it can be controlled, the US has “too much virus” for this, Dr. Anna Shuhat, chief deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday .
“Talking about this is a little painful, but I think we must also recognize that US confidence in leading the global pandemic preparedness coalition will really depend on our ability to hold back our domestic outbreak here, at home,” Konyndyk said. , “Our trust around the world begins with our competence within our own borders.”
“China and Russia”
If the United States leaves WHO, they risk losing ground to rivals in the country, said Dr. Mark Dybul, co-director of the Center for Global Medical Practice at Georgetown University Medical Center and former head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria.
“The United States can best carry out reforms when we are fully involved,” he said. “You cannot bet if you are not at the table, and if we are not at the table, others are ready to intervene and take our place, including China and Russia.”
He pointed to the emergence in China of a new virus, which, according to White House Health Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauchi, has pandemic potential, as an example of why global coordination of outbreak prevention is critical. Despite the fact that WHO has no enforcement capacity among other weaknesses, he said that it was “a necessary, albeit insufficient player”.
“In my opinion, WHO has done a good job in the circumstances and has greatly improved the Ebola situation,” he said of WHO’s response to Covid-19.
Global Fire Service
The bottom line is that WHO will not replace any alternative, said former US ambassador Jimmy Kolker, who was assistant secretary for global health at the Obama administration.
“You asked, Mr. Chairman, who is a fireman who responds when an outbreak occurs that could be an epidemic,” he said, referring to Senator James Rish, a Republican from Idaho. “My answer to this question is: there is no alternative to WHO.”
At the start of the outbreak, the WHO emergency health program distributed diagnostic tests for the virus to countries that requested it, he said. At the same time, the CDC distributed diagnostic tests to government officials, which later turned out to be inaccurate.
“The World Health Organization was the only organization that could get China’s permission for independent scientists to enter China and WHO, as they always, included experts from the US government in their delegation,” he said.
Kolker added that he would support US reform of his international pandemic preparedness programs and could support the CDC or other US agencies playing a more active role, “but WHO should be at the center.”