Collaboration in Crisis: The U.S. without the W.H.O.

NYU DC Dialogues and NYU GPH recently co-hosted a webinar on “Collaboration in Crisis: The U.S. Without the W.H.O."

It focused on the impact of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), even though the entire purpose of the international organization is to address and combat public health concerns around the globe -- including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prominent figures from the fields of public health and medicine included Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association; Chris Beyrer of the department of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University; Chris Dickey, director of the global and environmental public health program at GPH; and Eileen Sullivan-Marx, dean of the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and president of the American Academy of Nursing. The discussion was moderated by Pien Huang, a global health and development reporter on the Science desk for National Public Radio.

The panelists stressed the dangers of isolationism and the politicization of global health. Georges Benjamin noted that “We’re in a globalized world, and global cooperation is essential. The virus has no political borders.” Not only would the president’s decision eliminate the W.H.O.’s number one financial contributor, it would also end America’s access to a worldwide source of information related to global public health concerns, including COVID-19.

It was noted by all the panelists that the organization is not perfect, and must overcome serious challenges. They also agreed that the partnership between the U.S. and W.H.O. is important for scientific and global progress, and they argued for it to be reinstated. Without it, the U.S. will lose its ability to collaborate and innovate with allies, and will lose a seat at the global health decision-making table. Chris Dickey pointed out that, in addition to formal meetings, “the informal meetings are just as valuable for many ... this organization brings people together and gives them an opportunity to meet and discuss ideas in a way that’s not possible otherwise.”

In a follow-up Q&A session, topics from the audience included the possibility of American cities upholding the W.H.O.’s programs and goals without federal government participation; the likelihood of the U.S. withdrawing from other international organizations; and the role of the U.S. as a global partner in the event that the Trump administration continues for four more years.