After months of threats, President Trump this week submitted an official notice of withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) to the UN Secretary General, effective July, 6 2021. With this action, the President made our country less safe and threatened the health of billions of people around the globe. His decision is foolish. It is wrong. It will cost lives.
President Trump’s actions are a dangerous blow to a vitally important part of our global health infrastructure that provides lifesaving resources and directs the global public health response to new and existing threats. In their mission, the WHO works to ensure “a world in which all peoples attain the highest possible level of health.” It deserves our unwavering support to help prevent, prepare for, and respond to health emergencies around the globe.
"We need Congress to provide oversight and hold the executive branch accountable to ensure the safety and security of our country. We need to join with and support the WHO in their mission to provide better health for everyone, everywhere."The WHO is the largest international organization focused on global health and its funding comes from member states of the United Nations. At the core of President Trump’s declaration was his concern that the United States contributes nearly $500 million annually to sustain the work of the WHO, while other member states contribute far less - in particular, China. Rather than use American investment as leverage to enact the needed reforms to the WHO, President Trump has perpetuated his xenophobic policies blaming others for his own shortfalls and lack of leadership.
The Trump administration has shown that it has no interest in using data and evidence to drive its decisions. In removing American funding, President Trump is scapegoating the public health experts that we need. This is a brazen effort to cover up his own failure to handle the COVID-19 pandemic here in America, as he has undermined scientific opinion, ignored the facts, and refused to create a national strategy to keep Americans safe and healthy.
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These actions should not be a surprise to us and mirror the Republican playbook of the last decade. Recognizing the importance of public health in improving overall health, the Affordable Care Act earmarked increasing yearly budget line items to build up our national public health infrastructure. As Republicans took control of Congress and then the executive branch, this funding was stripped away from yearly budgets, resulting in an $8 billion shortfall in investment in domestic public health programs through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health. We are living through the consequences of those failed decisions having entered this fight against a deadly global pandemic with dwindling national stockpiles of emergency protective equipment, a lack of public health officials across the country to respond to the local spread of the virus, and a weakened trust in the power of government to protect our health.
Importantly, any strategy to address global health threats must recognize that protecting public health is part of our national defense strategy. More Americans have died from COVID-19 than in all military operations since the Korean War, combined. As the case numbers and deaths continue to increase, both here in America and around the world, we are obligated to think critically about how we can make our country more safe in the future. A robust network of global public health infrastructure is the only way that we can fight newly emerging and established health risks.
As an infectious disease physician and candidate for Congress, I am acutely aware of the impact decisions by our government have on the health of people across this country. I talk with patients every day who are concerned about their symptoms and worried about the safety of getting back to work. I work in the intensive care units that are deciding how to allocate limited numbers of ventilators. I see how our lack of investment in public health has made my patients less safe. I launched this campaign to make sure that these stories are heard in the halls of Congress and are centered in our policy decisions.
There has never been a more important moment for medical experts to have a seat at the table and to have the funding they need to do their jobs. We need healthcare professionals in Washington to fight back against an ignorant and reckless President, and to ensure that we put vulnerable lives first by implementing evidence-based strategies. We need Congress to provide oversight and hold the executive branch accountable to ensure the safety and security of our country. We need to join with and support the WHO in their mission to provide better health for everyone, everywhere.