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Global health experts tell Congress Trump’s decision to cut ties with


Mark Dybul testifies before a Senate Appropriations State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee hearing in Dirksen Building on global health problems, May 6, 2015.

Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call

President Donald Trump‘s decision to cut ties with the World Health Organization due to their response to the coronavirus pandemic will ultimately hurt U.S. interests and empower international rivals, four global health experts testified in the Senate on Tuesday.

Trump announced in late May that the U.S. would withdraw from the United Nations health agency after weeks of threats to cut funding and allegations of favoritism toward China. The WHO has defended its response to the pandemic, saying it warned members states of the threat the virus presented to the world and has provided technical support to countries throughout.

Democratic lawmakers have previously argued that the president does not have the authority to withdraw the U.S. or its funding from the WHO without Congressional action. A panel of health experts testifying on Covid-19 and international pandemic preparedness acknowledged the WHO’s shortcomings, but decried the president’s decision as harmful to U.S. interests.

‘Better, but not perfect’

“WHO’s response has been imperfect, but that does not mean it is in our interest, or the world’s interest, for the U.S. to leave WHO,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday. “The global pandemic is just getting started and the single biggest obligation that I believe we all have is to protect the lives and well being of the American people and the people around the globe. And this is why I believe that the administration’s decision to withdraw from WHO is so deeply unwise.”

Jha, who described himself as “one of WHO’s harshest critics” for the agency’s mishandling of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, added that “WHO’s response to Covid-19 has been better, but not perfect.” He said his biggest criticism of the WHO’s response to Covid-19 is that the agency has excessively praised China, which “is not worthy of praise.”

The WHO is irreplaceable in many parts of the world and has a unique relationship with many ministries of health, particularly in developing countries, Jha said.

“During this pandemic when we have many, many difficult months ahead of us, walking away from WHO, I believe, makes controlling the virus globally harder and makes it harder to manage the virus here at home,” he said. “Walking away from WHO leaves us without a voice at the table to better manage the disease globally.”

U.S. credibility

With or without the WHO, the U.S. will need to forge a path forward for international pandemic preparedness response, former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development Jeremy Konyndyk told lawmakers. A virus with the potential to spark a pandemic will come again, he said, and countries need to invest in global…


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