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The United States To Withdraw From The World Health Organization


Today the Trump administration formally notified the United Nations that it is pulling out of the World Health Organization. For more on this move, NPR's global health correspondent Jason Beaubien joins us now.

Hey, Jason.


CHANG: Hey. So President Trump - I mean, he's been talking about withdrawing from the WHO for quite some time now. So what is new about this announcement?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. So with this administration, you know, sometimes when the president or others makes statements, it's not entirely clear what's going to happen, if it's...

CHANG: Sure.

BEAUBIEN: ...A negotiating tactic or what.

CHANG: Yeah.

BEAUBIEN: But more than a month ago, the president did say he was pulling out of the WHO. But then U.S. agencies, including, like, the CDC - they were continuing to work with the WHO as if nothing had happened. So it was sort of unclear what was going on with this relationship. And then today, the State Department took this formal step of notifying the U.N. that this is happening. And they also notified Congress.

CHANG: OK, making it crystal clear. But remind us - why does the president want to pull out of the World Health Organization?

BEAUBIEN: So, you know, he's accused them of bungling the response to the coronavirus pandemic, and that's what this is about. He's accused the WHO of conspiring with China to downplay how infectious the virus is. He said that the WHO allowed this to spread around the world. You know, these are all accusations that the WHO denies.

I talked to Lindsay Wiley. She runs the Health Law and Policy Program at American University, and she questions whether President Trump has the authority to do this without Congress. And she says this is a distraction from the current U.S. response.

LINDSAY WILEY: It's fairly clear that this is an effort to deflect attention away from the Trump administration's failures in pandemic response within the U.S. and to try to suggest that the blame lies with the WHO or with the Chinese government or with anyone other than the administration.

BEAUBIEN: The U.S. - you know, by now, everyone knows the U.S. has the most cases in the world. Other countries in Europe and Asia - they're getting their transmission down to quite low levels while the U.S. numbers are reaching all-time highs.

CHANG: I mean, the U.S. has been a member of the WHO since, like - what? - 1948. It's the largest donor to the organization.

BEAUBIEN: Correct.

CHANG: So what is going to be the real-world impact of the U.S. pulling out now?

BEAUBIEN: You know, it would really be huge. The U.S., as you mentioned, is the largest donor. And if they leave, the second-largest donor right now would be the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Again, professor Wiley at American University says that if U.S. does abandon the WHO, it could undermine the agency as it's trying to coordinate the action against this pandemic right now.

WILEY: I mean, it would be a massive blow to the World Health Organization. There's also talk that Brazil is threatening to withdraw as well. And if those two countries together took this step, it would certainly undermine the World Health Organization's ability to respond to the global pandemic.

CHANG: OK. So the U.S. has made it crystal clear its intent to withdraw. But do you think this is really going to happen?

BEAUBIEN: So what is clear is that the administration isn't letting go of this issue. They're going to continue to lash out at the WHO, continue to blame the WHO and continue to put this out there as an issue that they're pulling out of this organization. They, however, have said that they're going to pull out a year from now, so that would be after the election. Joe Biden has said that if he's elected, he would rejoin the organization as soon as he gets into office. So whether or not this is really going to happen is probably going to be determined by what happens at the polling places in November.

CHANG: That is NPR's Jason Beaubien.

Thank you, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.