Congress must quickly reverse President Donald Trump’s defunding of the World Health Organization.
This should be a bipartisan priority, to provide U.S. leadership in combating the worldwide pandemic and support WHO’s broader, ongoing global-health mission.
The WHO made errors in its initial response to the coronavirus but so did Trump, who is scapegoating and undermining a critical health organization when it’s desperately needed to save lives.
As Bill Gates said on Twitter, the world needs WHO now more than ever.
“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Gates said. “Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them.”
Bill and Melinda Gates made Seattle a hub of global-health funding and innovation, spending more than $50 billion to eradicate terrible diseases, prevent early deaths of mothers and children, and improve lives around the world. Yet their efforts still depend on far larger, sustained support of global health by leading nations.
WHO does much more than respond to outbreaks. It works to improve access to health care and medicine worldwide, respond to other health crises and eradicate diseases.
The United States should press for improvements at WHO at some point. It’s right to push back when global organizations get too political or cozy with authoritarian countries like China. The U.S. must also accept that there will always be challenges, mistakes and compromises at an organization working with 194 different countries.
But one does not stop and tune an ambulance responding to an emergency.
Even after funding is restored, lasting damage has been done by the White House shifting blame and aggressively attacking WHO’s credibility.
Perception challenges complicate efforts to eradicate polio, for instance, making it harder to persuade countries wary of vaccines to participate in the WHO-led program.
“The credibility of WHO and the buy-in of the global community is really critical in supporting these efforts,” said University of Washington Professor Judd Walson, vice chair of the Global Health Department. “Regardless of the money, efforts to undermine the work of WHO such as this I think will have profound implications that are really hard to quantify at this time.”
Finger-pointing and bullying with a checkbook will not help the nation or world overcome the pandemic. Nor will they prevent voter scrutiny of whether elected officials waited too long to take the threat seriously.
Looking ahead, the current virus danger will subside eventually. But billions of children and less fortunate people will continue needing America’s help and ongoing support of WHO (recently over $400 million yearly) and its global-health mission.
Washington’s Congressional delegation has a record of supporting global-health programs and the state’s extraordinary work on this front. Congress has also wisely resisted past Trump proposals to slash global-health funding.
A bipartisan commitment is now needed to ensure federal funding of WHO continues and does not become a deadly distraction during the pandemic response.