NASTAD Denounces Trump Administration Withdrawal from the World Health Organization

Alexander Perez

This post is co-authored by Stephen Lee, Executive Director and Alex Perez, Manager, Health Equity.

On July 7, 2020, the Trump Administration formally notified the United Nations that it is withdrawing the United States from the World Health Organization (WHO). Withdrawing from WHO during the COVID-19 pandemic is a dangerous act that will affect the U.S.’s response to ending the pandemic and accessing needed resources. It is also a disastrous decision for vulnerable populations around the world who depend on the WHO to access HIV and hepatitis screenings and other health care coverage that they need.

Global collaboration of health organizations, agencies, researchers, and funders are needed now more urgently than before in order to address the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. History has proven that international cooperation is a crucial component of effective public health practice. The WHO has played a vital role in coordinating the global response to COVID-19 by providing recourses, research, and leadership. The U.S. should not isolate itself and withdraw support from WHO while trying to eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic. Epidemics, regardless of type, do not function in silos and will not be appropriately contained through isolationist tactics.

Beyond the pandemic, WHO has played a leading role in supporting and promoting public health globally, especially in addressing HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases. HIV continues to be one of the most serious threats to human health and development that requires an integrated health sector approach. Through the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. has made the largest commitment by any single nation to addressing the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. Contributions made by PEPFAR have accounted for progress in addressing the global HIV/AIDS burden in over 50 countries and continues to be one of few sources of relief for many nations around the world.  The WHO has acted as an integral coordinating body for this response and has successfully aided countries in closing the gaps in their health sectors by providing standardized guidance and international coordination to ensure the program’s success. The U.S. has been a crucial player in this collaborative response and its withdrawal from the WHO will threaten decades of progress, bringing into question the sustainability of achievements towards ending the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. The withdrawal will result in the U.S. sacrificing scientific progress achieved through the many contributions from low-and-middle income countries, ultimately undermining the administration’s own Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) initiative. 

The impact of withdrawal from an international agency, such as the WHO, compounds the effects felt by the international community given the steady stream of isolationist regulatory changes the current administration is working to enact. This severely damages the reputation of the U.S. and ultimately hinders our ability to collaborate effectively with the global community on humanitarian issues such as health, human rights, peace, and reconciliation. Withdrawing will leave the U.S. without a seat at the table which will not only negatively impact our own ability to respond appropriately to public health threats, but will have a major impact on the ability of the international community to coordinate responses as well. An intersectional and diplomatic approach is crucial to effectively responding to COVID-19 and reaching the EHE initiative goals.

It is vitally important that we invest our resources in global health now more than ever. Turning our backs on the international community will have devastating and longstanding impacts. NASTAD calls on the administration to reverse this decision, and on Congress to reject the withdrawal from the WHO.