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Trump administration makes good on vow to leave the WHO

President Trump walks on the South Lawn after arriving on Marine One at the White House in June.
President Trump, at the White House on June 25, is the focus of harsh criticism as the U.S. has formally notified the U.N. it is withdrawing from the World Health Organization.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

The Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization, although the pullout won’t take effect until next year, meaning it could be rescinded under a new administration or if circumstances change.

The withdrawal notification, delivered on Monday, makes good on President Trump’s vow in late May to terminate U.S. participation in the WHO, which he has harshly criticized for its response to the coronavirus pandemic and accused of bowing to Chinese influence. The move was immediately assailed by health officials and critics of the administration.

The withdrawal notice, sent to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday, will take effect in a year, on July 6, 2021, the State Department and the United Nations said Tuesday.

Guterres, in his capacity as depositary of the 1946 WHO constitution, “is in the process of verifying with the World Health Organization whether all the conditions for such withdrawal are met,” his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said.

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Under the terms of the withdrawal, the U.S. must meet its financial obligations to the WHO before it can be finalized. The U.S., which is the agency’s largest donor and provides it with more than $400 million per year, currently owes the WHO some $200 million in current and past dues.

In late May, less than two weeks after warning the WHO that it had 30 days to reform or lose U.S. support, Trump announced his administration was leaving the organization due to what he said was its inadequate response to the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in China’s Wuhan province late last year.

The president said in a White House announcement that Chinese officials “ignored” their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressured the organization to mislead the public about the outbreak, which has now killed more than 130,000 Americans.

“We have detailed the reforms that it must make and engaged with them directly, but they have refused to act,” Trump said at the time. “Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating the relationship.”

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The withdrawal notification was widely denounced as misguided, certain to undermine an important institution that is leading vaccine development efforts and drug trials to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The administration’s move to formally withdraw from WHO amid the greatest public health crisis that Americans and the world have faced in a century is short-sighted, unnecessary, and unequivocally dangerous,” said U.N. Foundation President Elizabeth Cousens. “WHO is the only body capable of leading and coordinating the global response to COVID-19. Terminating the U.S. relationship would undermine the global effort to beat this virus — putting all of us at risk.”

The One Campaign, which supports international health projects, called it an “astounding action” that jeopardized global health.

“The U.S. should use its influence to strengthen and reform the WHO, not abandon it at a time when the world needs it most,” said Gayle Smith, One president.


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