Washington: The Donald Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations that the United States will withdraw from the World Health Organisation, a move that would cut off one of the largest sources of funding from the premier global health organisation in the middle of a pandemic.
"The United States' notice of withdrawal, effective 6 July, 2021, has been submitted to the UN secretary-general, who is the depository for the WHO," a senior administration official said Tuesday.
The departure would take effect sometime next year, should the United States meet established conditions of giving a one-year notice and fulfilling its current financial obligations, StÃ©phane Dujarric, a spokesman for the secretary-general, AntÃ³nio Guterres, said Tuesday.
The notification completes a threat that President Donald Trump began making months ago, as the death toll from the coronavirus in the United States mounted and Trump sought to blame the Chinese government for not doing enough to stop the spread of the disease. Trump has accused Beijing of hiding the true scope of infections from the WHO, targeting the agency in the process.
"The world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government," Trump said in May when he first said the United States would withdraw from the organisation.
There is little evidence to support Trump's belief that the Chinese misinformed the organisation, although scientists and health experts have recently criticised the WHO for being slow to update its guidance and keep step with science as understanding of the virus rapidly evolves.
Trump's decision to leave the WHO is the latest in a series of withdrawals he has made from global pacts, usually after scorning such partnerships as disadvantageous for Americans. But the administration's move to withdraw from the WHO, an organisation the United States had a central role in creating more than a half century ago, during a pandemic that has infected more than 11.6 million people, killed more than a half a million and upended life around the world, drew swift condemnation from public health experts.
Lawrence Gostin, the director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said that the decision was "disastrous" for national interests and that the departure would weaken US influence on international health diplomacy.
"Trump's official notice of withdrawal from the WHO is among the most ruinous presidential decisions in recent history," Gostin, who is also affiliated with the World Health Organisation, said in a statement. "It will make Americans less safe during an unprecedented global health crisis."
Experts acknowledged that the WHO had made some missteps during the pandemic but said that it had largely done well given the constraints under which it operates. The agency is coordinating clinical trials of treatments, as well as efforts to manufacture and equitably distribute the vaccine.
"I think it's an extraordinarily bad decision that will both harm global public health and harm the health of the American people," said Dr Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. "It's unclear to me how the American people benefit by not being at the table and not being able to shape those policies."
For the Trump administration to blame the WHO for not investigating the outbreak in China is "deeply disingenuous," Jha added. "WHO can't push its way into China, any more than it can investigate why our outbreak is so bad in Arizona or why we're botching the response as badly as we are."
And Dr Thomas Frieden, a former director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, underlined the organisation's accomplishments. "Without WHO, the world would not have eradicated smallpox, multidrug resistant tuberculosis would have spread much more widely, and we would have much weaker systems to track influenza and other deadly infections."
The administration's move also drew criticism from members of Congress, including from Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who wrote on Twitter that Congress had just received notification of the withdrawal. "This won't protect American lives or interests " it leaves Americans sick and America alone," Menendez wrote.
Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, also denounced the move. "President Trump needs to realise this crisis doesn't recognise borders and hiding from it or passing the blame won't make it go away or make him any less responsible," she said in a statement.
The United States played a central role in creating the WHO in 1948, and has since been one of its largest sources of financial support. The biennial budget for the WHO is about $6 billion, which comes from member countries around the world. In 2019, the last year for which figures were available, the United States contributed about $553 million.
In the past, the WHO and global health priorities have enjoyed bipartisan support. But in May the Trump administration delivered a four-page letter calling for "major, substantive improvements" in exchange for continued funding.
The organisation's other member nations decided instead to conduct an "impartial, independent" examination of the WHO's response to the coronavirus pandemic. And it did not satisfy its American critics.
Katie Rogers and Apoorva Mandavilli c.2020 The New York Times Company