New York, NY, July 8, 2020 —
Dr. Mesfin Teklu Tessema, Head of the Health Unit at the IRC:
"The Trump Administration’s decision to formally withdraw from the World Health Organization during the deadliest pandemic in a century is an enormous mistake. At a time when Covid-19 case counts are skyrocketing in much of the United States- and around the world, especially in Latin America and Africa- we need to enhance our efforts to actually respond to the virus. Instead, this decision is an effective kneecapping of both the global and United States’ own responses.
In a world where a new virus can spread around the world in a matter of months, it is clear that we are in this together with people all around the globe. Every country on earth will need to effectively respond to this virus for the global threat to truly be contained. This means that more than ever, we need the World Health Organization. The WHO’s actions in response to the pandemic, while not perfect, have had life-saving effects: with support from the WHO, 44 countries in the WHO Afro region are now able to test for Covid-19. When the pandemic began in February, only two countries could do so. The WHO does need reform to foster greater independence from member states, and efficient and transparent aid disbursal, and in withdrawing the United States loses the opportunity to help shape and strengthen the WHO as a member state.
As the senior leader for health at the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid organization, I am deeply concerned about the ability of crisis-affected countries to respond to Covid-19. In these states, and many others, the World Health Organization plays an essential role in strengthening capacity for disease surveillance and response- actions that are critical for saving lives, and monitoring the spread of Covid-19 globally. We need the WHO to be able to do this work more rapidly, more comprehensively, and in partnership with every government around the globe.
The United States has been arguably the world’s greatest leader in global public health. The US commitment to global health has been laudably carried by both parties, and this commitment has meant steady funding flows and technical expertise that have saved millions of lives around the globe. The United States should be leading the global response to Covid-19, lending the expert capacity of its institutions, leveraging its power and its financial strength, to bring this pandemic to an end. Tragically, what we have instead is the opposite: despite appropriating $1.59 billion in March for global response efforts, as of last month, the Administration had spent only 25 percent of these funds. The United Nations’ Global Humanitarian Response Plan remains deeply underfunded, having raised only 22 percent of what is needed. The world needs strengthened multilateral cooperation to address this crisis, and it needs US leadership."