Jennifer Howse served for many years as the executive director of the March of Dimes, where she played a significant role in shaping public health policy in the nation. I asked her to write about Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization.

She writes:


There was once a US President confronted by a devastating virus, massive economic downturn, public fear, and political divide. In 1938, Franklin Roosevelt rose to leadership, and signed an Executive Order authorizing a ‘national effort to lead, direct, and unify the fight against polio.’ The journey forward to a
safe, effective, and available vaccine is a proud chapter in American history.

Today we have a US President confronted by a devastating virus, massive economic turndown, public fear, and political divide. Failing us as a leader, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on May 29, 2020 to ‘terminate US membership in the World Health Organization.

His action will have grave consequences at home and abroad.

Consider the vital and life-saving mission of the World Health Organization, created as a UN Agency in 1948, and charged with ‘improving the health of all people’. This has translated to smallpox eradication and reduction of
many more fatal and debilitating diseases such as polio, malaria and HIV-AIDS.

But the WHO works on a far broader scale than infectious disease. It co-ordinates health emergencies (like Ebola response), convenes leaders and experts in medicine and science, maintains the global data base for health outcomes, sets international standards, provides needed training and technical assistance especially to poorer countries, and advocates for improvements in global health outcomes. Termination of US membership means a reduction of millions of dollars to the WHO budget, and represents about 17% of the total budget.

Three consequences of immediate concern are:

-Damage to health services, medical supplies, and assistance to Low Income countries, mainly in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, where disease burden is the highest in the world. People will die as a result of cutbacks.

-Disruption, delay and setbacks in the global fight against the Covid 19 Pandemic.

-Isolation of the US from vital information and decision-making about health issues which affect our own citizens on a daily basis. New viruses, such as Corona and its variants, will continue to emerge. Close health partnerships between countries are critical to co-ordinated, effective, response.

The President’s terrible decision to leave the WHO, puts each of us at more risk, much like his refusal to wear a mask. Each of us can play a part to reverse the WHO Executive Order, which will become like dust in the wind if we vote to elect a new President in November.