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Thursday, Jul 09, 2020 13:00 [IST]

Last Update: Thursday, Jul 09, 2020 07:18 [IST]

Hanging by a thread

United States President Donald Trump has formally moved to withdraw the US from the World Health Organization (WHO). The president had made his intentions clear in late May, accusing the WHO of being under China's control in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite calls from the EU and others, he said he would pull out of the UN agency and redirect funds elsewhere. He has now notified the UN and Congress of his intentions, although the process could take at least a year.
According to reports, a senior US administration official told the media that Washington had detailed the reforms that it wanted the WHO to make and engaged with it directly, but that the WHO had refused to act. Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship, the official was quoted as saying.
Critics say it’s just his bid to cover up his own failures in Covid-19 containment and limit the number of deaths in the country. Trump has been accusing China of “secrecy, deception and cover-up” in the outbreak and the WHO of being “China-centric”. Other countries, including Germany and the UK, have said they have no intention of withdrawing funding from the WHO, which is co-ordinating a global initiative to develop a vaccine against Covid-19.
Trump could not have known it, but there is now evidence that WHO had not been fully transparent during the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, and China had indeed been more opaque than already known. If WHO gave an impression that on December 31 China had alerted it, the June 29 revised timeline of the world body clarifies the facts to a great degree. WHO’s country office in China had apparently been alerted by a media statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission about cases of viral pneumonia. It got the same news from another independent source too. China confirmed to WHO of the cluster of cases of ‘viral pneumonia of unknown cause’ on January 3 only after the global body twice reached out to the Chinese authorities on January 1-2.
Following the confirmation, WHO on January 4 tweeted to say, “China has reported to the WHO a cluster of pneumonia cases, with no deaths, in Wuhan, Hubei Province.…” Also, if the earlier timeline had mentioned that on December 31 a “novel coronavirus was eventually identified” as the cause of pneumonia cases, the revised information posted on the WHO website mentions that the cause of illness was not known till January 2, and China did not confirm novel coronavirus as the cause even on January 3 when it confirmed a cluster of pneumonia cases.
The withdrawal would not go into effect until next July. But the prospect of losing the United States as a member, far and away the WHO’s largest donor, is a big blow to the organization, and comes just a day after 239 scientists in 39 countries wrote an open letter claiming its guidance on airborne transmission was outdated. The US is the global health agency's largest single contributor, providing more than $400m (£324m; €360m) in 2019, around 15% of its total budget. Under a Congress resolution in 1948, the US can withdraw but must give a year's notice and should pay outstanding fees, although it is unclear where Trump stands on that. The withdrawal will call into question the WHO's financial viability and the future of its many programmes promoting healthcare and tackling disease.
Despite its flaws, the WHO has been proved a force largely for good over its 72-year life. However, to cut short its major source of funding, it could have a detrimental effect, especially during these times of pandemic.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi