Letter: Why we need the World Health Organization
President Trump is cutting off funding to the World Health Organization as punishment for what he says is the organization’s failure to warn the U.S. of a coming pandemic.
WHO alerted the world on Jan. 3 of a public health event in Wuhan, China. Our own Centers for Disease Control warned the White House on Jan. 6 of a possible danger to the U.S. WHO’s first Situation Report to the world was published on Jan. 21. U.S. government officials prodded the White House throughout January and February to take action. Trump dithered until mid-March.
One of WHO’s most important functions is the monitoring of various diseases and outbreaks. WHO receives reports from 195 member states. In cases of emerging dangerous diseases, such as Ebola or COVID-19, WHO may send personnel to assist the government in collecting data in a timely manner. How data are gathered and analyzed is agreed upon by member states so that data can be reliably compared.
WHO is the only organization in the world that has a system to gather such global data. Other organizations, such as our own CDC, often report their own estimates of disease progressions and do their own models and analyses, but usually they get their data from the WHO. The WHO also coordinates global responses and shares scientific breakthroughs.
Does it make sense for the U.S. to withhold funding from the WHO at the time of a global pandemic?
The U.S. is the largest contributor to the WHO. Cutting funds at this time is serious and is likely to significantly reduce WHO’s ability to monitor and report on further global disease outbreaks.
This pandemic has shown us that we are all connected. National borders mean nothing to pathogens, and people are constantly traveling all over the world. We need the information that WHO collects and reports. We need the coordination they organize.
Write to your senators and representatives telling them that withholding the U.S, contribution to WHO makes no sense. Bennet’s email is Senator_Bennet@bennet.senate.gov; Gardner’s is Senator_Gardner@gardner.senate.gov; and Tipton’s is CO03STIMA@mail.house.gov.
Editor’s note: Mayling Simpson, PhD, is a former senior technical officer at the World Health Organization in Geneva.
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