OPINION: Biden helps public health by preventing America’s break from WHO

The Biden administration prevented the U.S. from leaving the World Health Organization via an executive order Jan. 22, which will secure funding for the organization and benefit America’s public health system. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/PIXABAY

An executive order to prevent the U.S. from leaving the World Health Organization (WHO) was signed by President Joe Biden two days after the Jan. 20 inauguration. The decree follows an attempt by former President Donald Trump to dissociate the U.S. with the WHO on July 7. 

Trump aimed to leave the WHO by July 6, 2021, according to an official White House statement. His administration announced this following Trump’s accusations of the organization favoring China and being slow to hold the nation accountable for its handling of COVID-19. 

We spend $452 million and everything seems to be China’s way. That is not fair to us and fair to the world,” said Trump at an April White House briefing

The WHO did indeed act slowly to address the spread of the coronavirus. Only after 4,000 deaths and 118,000 infections did the WHO change the labeling of the COVID-19 crisis from outbreak to pandemic, delaying many countries’ responses. 

Despite criticisms, leaving the WHO was not the correct response to the organization’s presumed favoring of China and poor reaction to the pandemic. Breaking off from the WHO would have been expensive and unproductive, and it risked taking away the U.S.’s funding to the organization which is crucial to supporting the WHO’s various humanitarian efforts.

Membership with the WHO brings benefits that the Biden administration promised during the presidential campaign, like access to all information pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine distribution and information from other affiliated nations. 

America leaving the WHO would also weaken the organization’s ability to address issues like the pandemic and other serious health crises in both the U.S. and countries that receive significant support from it.

The U.S. is the WHO’s top donor, having invested $419 million in 2019 and being responsible for 20% of the organization’s annual funding, according to the WHO. That investment has aided in providing polio, malaria, tuberculosis and HIV protection to countries that cannot afford such vaccines and medications, like Nigeria and Iraq. 

The U.S.’s humanitarian efforts in other countries would be significantly weakened because many of its actions are directed through the WHO and inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals of the WHO’s parent organization, the United Nations.

The U.S. also houses the headquarters for the Pan American Health Organization, an international public health agency for the Americas in association with the WHO, in Washington, D.C. 

Separating the U.S. from the WHO would have also been a long, expensive and risky action. The U.S. would have needed to pay outstanding dues to the organization in order to secede, according to the WHO, which would have been $198 million at the time of Trump’s announcement of withdrawal last year. 

Leaving the WHO would have been a hindrance to America and detrimental to those countries that rely on the organization to provide research and medical care. Biden took correct action by signing this executive order. Preventing the U.S. from leaving the WHO will reinstate the reputation America holds internationally that Biden promised to re-establish.