US President Donald Trump has announced that he is “terminating” the country’s relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO), and that the US will redirect funds intended for the agency to other global health projects. During the announcement at a news briefing 29 May, Trump reiterated accusations that the WHO is too lenient with China.
Because the United States became a member of the WHO through a joint resolution in 1948, Trump may need Congressional approval to exit the agency, says Jennifer Kates, the director of global health & HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C. But she adds that previous presidents were able to withdraw from treaties without Congress stepping in. “This is murky legal territory,” she says.
Trump’s announcement follows a steady ramping up of blame and accusations hurled at the WHO that culminated last week in a sharply worded letter to the agency’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
In it, Trump threatened to make permanent the US freeze on WHO funding that began in April, unless the organization “can actually demonstrate independence from China” within 30 days. He also said that he would reconsider the United States’ membership in the organization.
Now, experts in health policy are contending with repercussions that could range from a resurgence of polio and malaria, to barriers in the flow of information on COVID-19. Scientific partnerships around the world would also be damaged, and the United States could lose influence over global health initiatives, including those to distribute drugs and vaccines for the new coronavirus as they become available, say researchers. “This will hurt,” says Kelley Lee, a global health-policy researcher at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada.