The United States and the WHO

Anthony Lopez, Staff Writer

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has made a concerted effort to consistently provide the public with the most up-to-date information concerning the novel coronavirus, as well as how best to treat it. In June, the WHO found that the implementation of corticosteroids reduced the mortality rates among critically ill patients by about one third, although this treatment was not recommended for those with mild disease.

More recently, studies confirmed that younger asymptomatic individuals are vessels for the continual spreading of the coronavirus. While the exact degree to which the spreading occurs is not yet known, it is another valuable piece of information to help better understand the risks associated with the virus. Such revelations are crucial if we ever wish for the pandemic to subside. Yet in the United States, it is clear that there is an apprehension towards the organization and their handling of the pandemic due to the relationship that the WHO maintains with China. U.S. President Donald Trump, following his decision to withdraw the United States from the WHO, stated that such an alliance was a chief reason for the organization’s early response to the pandemic. He argued that not enough information was demanded from China by the WHO, leading to outbreaks in other nations. He also believed that the WHO undersold the severity of the virus when it was concentrated in China. This serves as a twist of irony, given that Trump spent much of the early months of the pandemic stating that COVID-19 would not greatly affect his country.

Of course, just as Trump does not wish to face any blame or repercussions for the current state of the United States, not all of the fault can be laid at the feet of the organization. The WHO can not demand such information from the nation’s leaders, despite what the president may believe. In regards to Trump’s accusations, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom stated that there is no favoritism towards China. Concerning the withdrawal, he felt that “It’s the relationship with the U.S. that’s more important and its leadership abroad,” and not merely the funding which is so valuable in a partnership with the country. 

By losing such a figure of leadership in the United States, the WHO would be limited in the coordination it can conduct internationally. The United States is a leader of research; no longer being a part of the organization would mean that the statistics and data it collects will be unavailable for the WHO and the rest of the world’s nations. That makes it a significantly greater challenge in handling situations like the very pandemic we are currently in.

But the funding can not be ignored either. In 2018 and 2019,  the United States donated far more than any other organization or country, with over $850 million, around 15% of the WHO’s total budget, being provided by the country. But with Trump’s withdrawal, the $62 million intended for further funding will instead be reallocated to other local groups. By losing such a major relationship the WHO will find itself without the support of a major nation as well as the funding it provides. 

There are clear economic ramifications to the loss of such a major source of funding for the WHO. The ability in which the organization can rapidly conduct thorough research will be hampered, and their response, which Trump criticized, can become more delayed. But the WHO can not merely focus on one issue, as it has various public services concerning other viruses and diseases such as tuberculosis. With the funding of the WHO so drastically reduced, the resources that can be provided for those public services will decrease as well. 

There are numerous reasons for America to continue its relationship with the WHO. The fact that we are currently in a global pandemic, where nearly 200,000 American lives have been lost, should be one of the most glaring reasons to do so. On Sept. 1, the United States announced that it would not join in a global effort to develop a vaccine, in part because the effort is being led by the WHO. “The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said. 

Of course, it would be easy to say that the United States has more than enough resources to support their clinical trials and development. But as Dr. Tedros said, “For the world to recover faster, it has to recover together, because it’s a globalized world: the economies are intertwined.” Trump might believe that the WHO has a bias towards China with such fervor that he withdrew from the organization, but in doing so affects his own country as well as the rest of the world. The efforts to develop a vaccine and finally put the pandemic behind us can and should not be done alone, despite Trump’s insistence on doing so.

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