Q&A: US withdrawal from WHO would put children at ‘grave’ risk
U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced last week that the U.S. would withdraw from WHO, citing criticism of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its relationship with China.
The move has concerned experts, who worry about the impact it might have on global health.
“The world has long benefitted from the strong collaborative engagement with the government and the people of the United States,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said during a press briefing this week. “The U.S. government’s and its people’s contribution and generosity toward global health over many decades has been immense and it has made a great difference in public health all around the world. It is WHO’s wish for this collaboration to continue.”
AAP CEO and Executive Vice President Mark Del Monte, JD, said a U.S. withdrawal from WHO “carries grave risks for the world’s children during an unprecedented global health crisis.”
“The decision to withdraw risks causing a surge in polio cases and an increase in deaths of children from malaria, and it will further delay life-saving vaccination campaigns,” Del Monte said in a statement. “Withdrawing support from WHO not only harms the global response against COVID-19 and prevents the United States from engaging the agency to enact meaningful reforms but undermines the response to other major health threats impacting children.”
HHS directed Infectious Diseases in Children’s questions about the decision to The White House, which did not comment.
We spoke with AAP President Sara H. Goza, MD, FAAP, regarding the withdrawal from WHO and the impact it could have on children’s health globally. – by Ken Downey Jr.
Question: What impact has WHO had on global public health?
Answer: WHO plays a leading role in protecting the health of children and families across the globe. WHO has been successful in addressing numerous global child health challenges, including eradicating smallpox, vaccinating billions against measles and cutting preventable child deaths by more than half since 1990.
Q: How will the U.S.’s decision to withdraw from WHO impact ongoing public health programs?
A: The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from WHO jeopardizes the significant progress the agency has made to support and promote the health of children globally, especially in the fight against diseases that have a disproportionate effect on children such as polio, malaria and measles. The decision risks leading to a surge in polio cases — disrupting the long-standing goal of polio eradication. It could lead to an increase in deaths from malaria as disruptions in WHO’s Global Malaria Program caused by the U.S. withdrawal of funding or membership will further delay the effort to achieve a malaria-free world. The U.S. withdrawal will also impact measles immunization campaigns and delay the goal of achieving and maintaining a world without measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.
Q: Will it have an impact on the response to COVID-19?
A: Unfortunately, yes. Fighting a worldwide health crisis of this magnitude requires collaboration, support and a unified global response, informed by science and data. WHO is the only global health body with a presence in more than 150 countries, making it capable of coordinating unprecedented global trials on treatments and vaccines. Countries around the world rely on WHO for reliable information, resources, and equipment to fight COVID-19. The decision to withdraw from WHO comes amidst an unprecedented global health crisis. At a time when we need a strong global response to combat COVID-19, this decision does the opposite. AAP is urging the administration to reconsider its decision.