On behalf of my colleagues at PATH, I am disappointed by the news that the United States is withdrawing from the World Health Organization. It is precisely moments like these that demonstrate the need for the WHO’s existence. While we must all evaluate our role in the COVID-19 response with a critical eye for opportunities to improve, now is not the time to create further disruption. Ending support and collaboration during a pandemic threatens our ability to defeat it, and is harmful for the health of Americans and populations around the globe.
“Ending support and collaboration during a pandemic threatens our ability to defeat it, and is harmful for the health of Americans and populations around the globe.”— Nikolaj Gilbert, PATH CEO
This decision is counter-productive and harmful to US interests, but more importantly it runs directly contrary to the spirit of equity that has underpinned US global health efforts from polio elimination to PEPFAR, to the President’s Malaria Initiative. All these programs have deep collaboration with WHO and rely on it to set norms and standards to inform their work. Not having a seat at the table will simply slow progress.
Even beyond hampering US efforts, this decision will set back the global efforts to ensure that all have a fair chance at health, or in other terms achieve health equity.
PATH values WHO’s efforts to work with countries to build the responsive and resilient health systems that will allow both rapid response to and containment of outbreaks as well as the ability to reach even the most marginalized populations with essential health services such as routine immunization, and maternal, child, and adolescent care, as well as addressing non-communicable diseases. We have seen the power of innovative approaches including digital health to accelerate progress and WHO has embraced this as never before under Dr. Tedros’ leadership.
Another area where WHO has shown great leadership over recent years is in helping enable a global ecosystem that supports research and development of new health technologies. As we have seen, even the wealthiest health systems in the world cannot respond to outbreaks without the right tools. The same is doubly true for health systems in lower resource settings. Through initiatives such as the Solidarity trial, WHO has facilitated global collaboration to ensure that new tools are available quickly at appropriate quality to those who need them.
PATH remains committed to our mission of advancing health for all—even more so in these challenging times. A big part of that will be continuing to work closely with our partners at WHO to pursue the notion of health as a right for all. We call on all our international partners—including the United States—to make that same commitment.