May 31, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Gottlieb: "This is not the time to be pulling out of the WHO"

Scott Gottlieb, President Trump's former FDA commissioner, warned on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday that "this is not the time" to be pulling out of the World Health Organization."

Why it matters: Gottlieb said Trump's decision to cut off the United States' relationship with the WHO will impact international responses not only to the coronavirus pandemic, but also to diseases like polio. For many countries that lack critical health infrastructure, the WHO functions as their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gottlieb said.

The backdrop: President Trump announced last week that he is ending funding for the organization after accusing it of failing to hold Beijing to account over the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Gottlieb noted that Trump has "valid concerns" about the WHO, but disagreed with the decision to terminate the relationship.
  • "I don't think pulling out was the right measure," he said. "We could have tried to reform the WHO from within, and we could have put pressure on China through the WHO, forcing China, for example, to admit Taiwan to the World Health Assembly."

The big picture: Gottlieb said he believes withdrawal will result in weakened coronavirus responses around the world, particularly in some African nations that overwhelmingly rely on the WHO for health information.

  • "The World Health Organization is a more important entity to a lot of those countries, Gottlieb said. "It is their CDC. So pulling out of the WHO right now, and pulling away resources from that organization, I think, is going to contribute to some of the adversity and hardships that these countries face as they try to battle COVID disease."

Gottlieb noted that the WHO is also the sole funder of other health initiatives in some countries.

  • "For example, the polio eradication program ⁠— as best I can tell, the only entity funding that program is the WHO, so it's going to be hard for the United States to support that through other organizations."

Between the lines: As the U.S. began pulling away from the WHO, China increased its involvement in the organization, pledging an additional $30 million on top of the $86 million it gave in 2018–2019.

  • The U.S., however, gave the WHO $893 million in 2018–2019, by far the largest single contributor in the world.
  • WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pledged in May to hold an independent review of the global coronavirus response. China backed the move, despite strongly rejecting an inquiry when Australia first proposed it.

Go deeper: Making the most of an imperfect WHO

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