Trump threatens the World Health Organization and the health of the world

Morufat Bello, Research Fellow, Africa Program, Center for International Policy

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World Health Organization flag. U.S. Mission Photo by Eric Bridiers

On Friday, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. and its funding from the World Health Organization (WHO). Trump claims that the WHO “failed in its basic duty,” and accused it of “mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” Governments, medical experts and health organizations around the world continue to critique his move.

If successful in withdrawing from the WHO, it will be an addition to the long list of treaties and organizations the President has withdrawn from since he took office. This policy approach has become central to his administration and a phenomenon Richard Haas has termed the Withdrawal Doctrine, in the absence of a clear foreign policy.

Trump’s basis for halting funding to the organization is unfounded. The WHO declared the coronavirus a global health emergency in late January, the same time President Trump was downplaying the disease, instead of taking measures to contain and reduce its spread in the US.

The administration’s move to sever ties with the WHO is an attempt to deflect attention from President Trump’s poor leadership, inadequate response, and irresponsibility in handling COVID-19 in the US. The U.S.’ withdrawal could have major consequences for the effort to tackle the pandemic in the U.S. and worldwide. It is a blatant attack on one of the most important post-World War II global institutions that the US helped create. Withdrawal would make it harder to promote international cooperation in the search for a vaccine to combat COVID-19. And it could weaken international efforts to support all countries that are struggling to mitigate the impact of the virus even as concerns grow regarding a possible severe outbreak in Africa.

This move also comes at a time when, for the first time since its inception in 1948, all 194 member countries elected its first African Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia. A withdrawal doesn’t only undermine the African leadership of the organization, but it weakens the role of the U.S. as a global leader — while China continues to forge stronger relationships with African states despite its own challenges. On Sunday, in an announcement made by the South African President and Chairperson of the African Union, Cyril Ramaphosa, it was disclosed that China intends to give 30 million test kits per month, 10,000 ventilators, and 80 million masks to African countries. Once again, China is taking the lead in Africa at a time when global leadership is crucial, something the current U.S. administration has clearly failed at.

The leadership and practical work of the WHO is especially critical now in fighting COVID-19 and in preventing future outbreaks or new hotspots as the novel coronavirus continues to be a threat to all people. The WHO is the institution best equipped to provide necessary life-saving information and scientific guidance, and to mobilize researchers to conduct tests and identify potential vaccines. The world is learning to deal with the absence of U.S. leadership, but it cannot do without the WHO.

The Center for International Policy Africa Program analyzes U.S. foreign policy toward the nations of Africa to promote greater positive U.S. engagement

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