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On the news that the Trump Administration has formally notified Congress of its intent to withdraw the US from the World Health Organization (WHO), Amanda Glassman, executive vice president and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and a public health expert, released the following statement:
“The Trump Administration’s actions to withdraw from the WHO endanger public health and well-being in the United States and around the world.
“The threat is not just COVID-19 today. There has been a notable rise in the frequency of pandemics from the year 2000 onwards due to increased viral disease amongst animals and high levels of human mobility essential for prosperity at home and abroad. The likelihood of a new coronavirus emergence in the next five years is considered likely given what we are seeing with SARS-CoV-2 mutations and spread to other species. The probability of a high lethality strain of influenza in the next decade or so is also significant, the only uncertainty is the timing. Resistance to antibiotics and antivirals is also on the rise, and requires global coordinated action to conserve these medicines that make modern health care possible. Other, still unknown biosecurity threats are also on the horizon.
“COVID-19 has already cost more than 130,000 American lives and is projected to result in $8 trillion in economic losses in the US over the next decade. The human and economic impact of this and future outbreaks do not depend only on what the US does domestically, but what every country in the world does to detect early, to conduct on-going high-quality surveillance and laboratory testing, to share disease intelligence from genomic sequences to interventions, to control spread, and to conserve medical countermeasures like antibiotics. The WHO is the agency mandated to coordinate these global functions under the supervision and governance of its board of member countries.
“As has now been shown in sharp relief, the WHO lacks the necessary funding and full capabilities needed to effectively control the global spread of infectious diseases. Failures and weaknesses throughout the international system, including WHO but also national governments who design multilateral institutions for short-term benefit, have led us to where we are today.
“Yet none of the corrective measures needed at WHO will be accomplished without US membership in good standing. Withdrawal is counterintuitive at best and dangerous to human life at worst. The US Congress should immediately explore what power it has to prevent this from happening.”
In November, the World Health Organization will select its next regional director for Africa. As we wrote in a previous blog, this position is not posted publicly and has no independent mechanism in place to recommend, interview, and evaluate the best qualified candidates.
This week the World Health Organization held a major international meeting on universal health coverage (UHC), with Director General Margaret Chan reaffirming her regard for universal coverage “as the single most powerful concept that public health has to offer.” While the term “universal” signals that the entire population will be “covered,” an unanswered question is: covered with what? Another way to put the question: What health benefits or interventions would represent coverage, taking into account UHC’s implicit goals of improved health, equity and financial protection?
As a new WHO Director-General—Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus—prepares to take office, many have called for clearer priorities, governance and organizational reforms, and funding expansions. All good, but there is one additional, grossly neglected issue that requires urgent action: WHO needs better economic advice. As I explain in this blogpost, that should come in the form of appointing WHO’s own chief economist.