Trump makes good on WHO pullout

The withdrawal of the WHO founding member is effective in 1 year, but Biden vows to end the pull out if he wins the White House

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump on Tuesday formally started the withdrawal of the US from the World Health Organisation (WHO), making good on threats to deprive the United Nations (UN) body of its top funding source over its response to the coronavirus.

Public health advocates and Trump’s political opponents voiced outrage at the departure from the Geneva-based body, which leads the global fight on maladies from polio to measles to mental health — as well as Covid-19, at a time when cases have again been rising around the world.

After threatening to suspend the US$400 million (RM1.71 billion) in annual US contributions and then announcing a withdrawal, the Trump administration has formally sent a notice to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a State Department spokesperson said.

The withdrawal of the key WHO founding member is effective in one year — July 6, 2021. Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent in November elections, vowed he would immediately end the pull out if he won the White House.

“Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health. On my first day as president, I will rejoin the WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage,” Biden wrote on Twitter.

WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responded to the news with a one-word tweet — “Together!” — as he linked to a discussion by US health experts on how leaving the global body could impede efforts to prevent future pandemics.

In line with conditions set when the WHO was set up in 1948, the US can leave within one year, but must meet its remaining assessed financial obligations, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

In late May, Trump said China exerted “total control” over the WHO and accused the UN body led by Dr Ghebreyesus, an Ethio- pian doctor and diplomat, of failing to implement reforms.

Blaming China for the coronavirus, Trump, a frequent critic of the UN, said the US would redirect funding “to other worldwide and deserving, urgent, global public health needs”.

Democratic lawmakers have accused Trump of seeking to deflect criticism from his handling of the pandemic in the US, which has suffered by far the highest death toll of any nation despite the president’s stated hope that the virus will disappear.

“To call Trump’s response to Covid chaotic and incoherent doesn’t do it justice,” said Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign

Relations Committee. Representative Ami Bera, himself a physician, said the US and WHO had worked “hand in hand” to eradicate smallpox and nearly defeat polio.

“Our cases are increasing,” Bera said of Covid-19. “If the WHO is to blame: Why has the US been left behind while many countries from South Korea to New Zealand to Vietnam to Germany return to normal?”

The Trump administration has said the WHO ignored early signs of human-to-human transmission in China, including warnings from Taiwan — which, due to Beijing’s pressure, is not part of the UN body.

While many public health advocates share some criticism of the WHO, they question what other options the world body had other than to work with China, where Covid-19 was first detected late last year in the city of Wuhan. The anti-poverty campaign ONE said the US should work to reform, not abandon, the WHO. — AFP