Microbes do not recognize borders. We are all safe only when everybody is safe. In a pandemic, to attack the only body we have for global cooperation endangers everyone. That is why the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) is dangerous not only for the United States, but for all of the world.
Trump’s decision to withdraw from the WHO is a continuation of his wielding a wrecking ball to the international framework of treaties and organizations. Whether it is arms control, climate change, trade or the WHO, the United States sees these agreements and institutions as fetters on its hegemonic powers to shape the world. Trump may express this pathology in its most ugly form, but the disease runs far deeper.
Trump’s excuse for withdrawing from the WHO is that it did not do its job well on the COVID-19 epidemic and was soft on China. Condemning Trump’s move, Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh and adviser to the Scottish government, tweeted, “Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. from the WHO ignores the key role the agency plays in outbreak prevention and response. Not only for COVID, but also for polio, malaria, TB, plague, yellow fever, cholera, Zika virus, and neglected tropical diseases.” She also pointed out that it is because of such international agreements that the WHO received information from China on the novel pathogen on December 30, 2019, and declared the “highest alarm bell the world has”—a Public Health Emergency of International Concern—on January 30, 2020.
Trump is trying to pass the buck to the WHO for his administration’s abject failure to prepare the United States for the COVID-19 pandemic and its handling of the epidemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could not even prepare a proper test kit for two months for detecting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. China, Germany and South Korea, to name a few, all had working test kits well before the CDC. One of these, Berlin’s Charité hospital test kit, has been supplied by the WHO to more than 120 countries. The WHO had delivered this test kit to 57 countries well before the CDC—with an annual budget almost three times WHO’s (the CDC’s annual budget is about $6.8 billion against the WHO’s two-year budget for 2020-2021 of about $4.8 billion)—could get its test kits to work.