US Withdrawal from WHO is Reckless Act that Could Delay Americans’ Access to COVID-19 Solutions and Prolong Global Pandemic

July 7, 2020

AVAC, Health GAP and the Treatment Action Group (TAG) strongly condemn the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO). Today’s announcement formalizing the President’s threats from earlier this year is short-sighted and dangerous, and will cost more lives and deepen economic devastation in the United States and around the world, which are already reeling from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“This virus respects no borders; COVID-19 anywhere can quickly become COVID-19 everywhere. Global health emergencies require global leadership, and that requires a strong and supported World Health Organization,” said Mitchell Warren, AVAC’s Executive Director. “The Administration is playing politics with people’s lives here in the US and around the world. We will be left behind as the world comes together to collaborate and coordinate science as the best strategy to counter the pandemic, and we will lose ground in our historical investments to end HIV, TB, hepatitis C and other health issues.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented global cooperation among researchers and funders, with WHO playing a critical role in coordinating both the overall global response and many of the global research initiatives. Global cooperation on public health policy, science, data and information sharing is needed more urgently than ever before. The Trump administration makes a dangerous gamble in thinking that the US can act alone in the response to COVID-19.

“We are seeing the disastrous effects of the US federal government’s lack of strategy playing out every day in increased COVID cases and deaths of Americans, particularly in the Black community,” says Suraj Madoori, TAG’s US and Global Health Policy Director. “Withdrawal from WHO will only compound the issues for our nation and for the world by further retreating on shared responsibilities in public health governance.”

The COVID-19 epidemic is devastating already constrained health systems in low- and middle-income countries where COVID-19 is surging, and has further weakened the US healthcare system as well. At the same time, this new pandemic is already having profound implications on responses to HIV/AIDS, TB, viral hepatitis, malaria, vaccination and contraceptive programs and all other public health responses.

WHO plays a key role in coordination, guidance development and mobilization of these public health responses in countries struggling with COVID-19 in addition to limited resources, conflict and other humanitarian and ecological disaster-related crises. As governments and stakeholders position resources against COVID-19, the WHO has taken the lead in forming the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a new and needed global collaboration to accelerate development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.

The US, as a historic leader and funder of global public health initiatives, and the largest funder of WHO, has a moral responsibility to help ensure an equitable global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Terminating the US relationship with WHO starves the organization of funding, US staff and US expertise. It likely prolongs the pandemic and will force WHO to cut critical funding and support for other health programs, including those responding to HIV/AIDS, TB, viral hepatitis, and sexual and reproductive health.

“The Trump administration is shameless in its extreme nationalism at the expense of people’s lives. The WHO performs a vital role in getting new HIV treatments to people around the world safely and quickly and providing key technical assistance to strengthen health systems in vulnerable countries. Trump pulling the US out of the WHO is yet another demonstration of his disregard for people living with HIV around the world,” said Matthew Rose, Director of US Policy and Advocacy for Health GAP.

AVAC, Health GAP and TAG call for the Trump Administration to immediately reverse this disastrous decision, restore and protect funding to WHO and work to ensure global cooperation in the pandemic response.

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