President Trump has announced that the U.S. will terminate relations with the World Health Organization. This decision will weaken our collective ability to respond in a coordinated, global manner to the COVID-19 pandemic and affect our global health security.
Here is what else is at stake:
- A Surge in Polio Cases. Defunding WHO would stop vital support from U.S. government programs that have accelerated decades of progress towards global polio eradication and measles elimination. For instance, using funding from CDC and USAID, WHO implements global disease surveillance for the polio virus in areas where USG agencies do not have the capacity to reach, including polio hotspots like Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is embedded in WHO and has decreased the number of wild poliovirus cases by 99.9% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases to just 176 in 2019. WHO leads surveillance, immunization, and technical support, and is able to reach remote areas in countries where polio still exists. Without these detection capabilities, polio could surge to 200,000 cases annually within a decade. Rotary International’s 1.2 million members have been leading supporters of polio eradication; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are the other core partners. A U.S. withdrawal from WHO and/or a large reduction in funding would be highly disruptive and postpone the longstanding goal of polio eradication.
- Compromise the World’s Infectious Disease Early Warning System. The benefit of WHO’s surveillance support from CDC and USAID is felt far beyond just specific diseases. These same surveillance systems benefit the U.S. and global community by acting as an early warning system for other emerging infectious diseases. Early detection allows countries to stop disease outbreaks at their source before they spread farther and become deadlier and more expensive to contain. WHO has issued guidelines to help countries sustain immunization activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several key global programs fighting infectious disease threats are now impeded by the pandemic and would be devastated by the loss of U.S. funding and by the personnel and programmatic disruptions caused by a U.S. withdrawal from WHO. U.S. assessed and voluntary contributions together represented approximately 16% of WHO’s total revenue in the 2018-2019 biennium.
- Harm the U.S. Economy. Without U.S. government funding for WHO, country capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to health threats is significantly weakened, jeopardizing the health security of Americans and our country’s economic and trade interests.
- Jeopardize Humanitarian Activities. WHO’s emergency and humanitarian activities are critical to U.S. foreign policy. After the fall of ISIS in Mosul in Iraq, the WHO set up field hospitals and trauma stabilization points that saved hundreds of lives. In Yemen, UNICEF and the WHO continue to respond to a cholera epidemic that has sickened nearly one million people since January 2018, operating treatment facilities and vaccinating people across the country.
- Malaria Deaths Increasing. WHO is one of the leaders in the fight against malaria, which killed 405,000 people in 2018. The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative depends on, and adheres to, WHO guidelines across malaria interventions in treatment and prevention and relies on WHO’s expert guidance in malaria-related research to develop policy and programs that reduce the burden of malaria worldwide. A new analysis has determined that COVID-19 could lead to a doubling in the number of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, a return to malaria mortality levels last seen 20 years ago. WHO has called for minimizing interruptions to malaria prevention and treatment services during the pandemic. Disruptions in WHO’s Global Malaria Program caused by U.S. withdrawal of funding or membership will delay the effort to achieve a malaria-free world.
- Measles Immunization Campaigns Delayed. Measles is one of the world’s most infectious and deadly diseases. WHO is the key implementing agency in the Measles & Rubella Initiative with its disease surveillance networks, vaccination campaigns, and technical expertise. As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on receiving life-saving measles vaccine. Measles immunization campaigns in 24 countries have already been delayed; more will be postponed. Withdrawal of U.S. funding or membership in WHO would further upset these efforts and delay the goal of achieving and maintaining a world without measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.
- Weakening PEPFAR. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was started by President George W. Bush with bipartisan support in 2003. PEPFAR relies on and helps countries implement WHO’s treatment guidelines for HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR and WHO work together to enhance programs and policies in areas including laboratory capacity, prevention of mother to child transmission, TB/HIV, health systems strengthening, and counseling and testing. WHO plays a particular role: strengthening the health-sector response to what continues to be one of the world’s leading infectious killers. U.S. withdrawal of funding and/or membership in WHO would have a negative impact on the ability of WHO’s HIV/AIDS Program to support what has been PEPFAR’s remarkable success in savings millions of lives.