WASHINGTON: AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) sharply criticized the Trump administration for its announcement earlier that it is withdrawing U.S. membership in the World Health Organization (WHO) after cutting hundreds of millions in funding to the global organization in recent weeks.
Despite the fact that WHO badly bungled its global COVID-19 response and abetted China’s cover up of its own response, AHF believes that U.S. membership in and funding of WHO should continue, but must be conditioned on reform of the institution so that it can never again collude with a member state’s cover up, as it appears to have done with China.
“The fact that the World Health Organization’s response to COVID-19 has fallen far short and that it aided China in covering up its own timeline and response to the pandemic does not justify pulling the United States out of the only international body working today to address global health issues like the deadly coronavirus,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AHF. “We are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic that has already taken the lives of over 100,000 Americans and over 360,000 people worldwide. The Trump administration’s action today reflects very poorly on the U.S. and will be catastrophic for global public health for years to come.”
While AHF was one of the first nonprofit public health organizations to call for the declaration of COVID as a pandemic and one of the few organizations calling for the resignation of the director general of the World Health Organization for colluding with China in covering up the initial outbreak, AHF also recognizes that the domestic U.S. response to COVID-19 has been equally disappointing.
As a global leader, the U.S. has dropped the ball. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shipped out contaminated COVID-19 tests, rendering the nation’s first test ineffective during the critical early stage of the outbreak. The U.S. government also ignored its own pandemic plans, which sat on bureaucratic shelves collecting dust, according to Kaiser Family Foundation. Absent a national plan to control the pandemic, state and local governments were left to compete for medical supplies, such as masks, ventilators, and diagnostic and antibody tests.
More recently, the CDC and 11 states were found to be co-mingling and reporting data on RNA testing for COVID-19—which shows an active coronavirus infection—together with antibody testing and reveals antibody presence of the virus in patients who have recovered from the infection. According to the New York Times, that convoluted system “… muddies the picture of the pandemic but raises the percentage of Americans tested as President Trump boasts about testing.”
“Unfortunately, we at AIDS Healthcare Foundation have seen this before. In the early days of the HIV epidemic, many government and non-government institutions responsible for protecting public health failed to raise the necessary alarms while HIV spread needlessly throughout the world,” said Terri Ford, Chief of Global Policy & Advocacy for AHF.
WHO’s similar dereliction of duty on the global front during the pandemic prompted this additional comment from AHF: “If we can have an international system controlling air travel, we should also have an international convention on public health that demands at a minimum transparent, verifiable release of data. Clearly the World Health Organization has failed to lead, settling instead to ingratiate itself to a closed authoritarian member state. We call on the international community to wrest control of the WHO evaluation process and give that assignment to a trusted, neutral institution. The WHO should not be in a position to grade itself. Renewed membership and financial support for the WHO from the U.S. Government IS warranted but should be conditioned on top to bottom reform of the institution so it can never again collude with a member state’s cover up,” added AHF’s Weinstein.