CORONAVIRUS

When will United States withdraw from the WHO?

Back in May, President Donald Trump declared that the U.S. would be terminating their relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO).

When will United States withdraw from the WHO?
FABRICE COFFRINI AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump has voiced his unhappiness with the World Health Organization (WHO) on numerous occasions and has threatened to withdraw funding to the Geneva-based health agency unless it carries out structural reforms. Out of all of the member states, the U.S. is by far the largest contributor to the WHO, providing over $400 million in funding annually through assessed contributions and voluntary payments. The United States’ contributions to the WHO’s 2018/19 biennium programme budget was more than double that of the next two largest contributors – the United Kingdom and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Why is Trump annoyed with the WHO?

Trump has accused the WHO of being ensnared in China's influence both during and in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. He has also insinuated that the WHO turned a blind eye while China either dithered in passing on information about the coronavirus outbreak or withheld it. On 29 May, during a press briefing at the Rose Garden, he stunned reporters by declaring, “We will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization”.

The president gave an ultimatum of 30 days for the WHO to set reforms in motion and while some thought he could be bluffing, this week the Trump administration notified Congress and the United Nations Secretary-General that the U.S. would be formally withdrawing its membership from the WHO.

Can the United States leave the WHO?

However, it is not that simple for a member state to just withdraw from the WHO. There are 194 nations who are signed up affiliates to the WHO and since the organisation started by the U.N. in April 1948, only once has a member left (the U.S.S.R. walked out in 1949 but later returned). For the United States, whose relationship with the WHO goes right the way back to its inception and it would have to give a one-year notice and pay any outstanding funds before it is allowed to leave. Funding that has been deposited this year cannot be taken back and any voluntary funds that have been pledged would still need to be honoured.

So while the Trump administration has informed the U.N. of its exit from the WHO, effective from 6 July 2021, it’s still not known whether they will legally be allowed to do so. And in the meantime, there are presidential elections on the horizon and Trump’s rival Joe Biden has made it clear that he will reverse the decision if he is elected.