Trump’s Attacks On The WHO Leaves America Alone

Trump's refusal to collaborate with over 170 countries towards a vaccine is yet another move that projects US weakness on the world stage.
U.S. President Donald Trump attends a G7 session in the Sicilian town of Taormina, Italy, Saturday, May 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

U.S. President Donald Trump attends a G7 session in the Sicilian town of Taormina, Italy, Saturday, May 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

To date, America has had over 6 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and over 190,000 people have died in the country from the virus. With a pandemic that is having such a devastating toll on the nation’s social and economic health, you would think that the number one priority for the President of the United States would be to do anything in his power to control the spread of the virus and, ultimately, to eradicate it. However, as we have seen since the first case of COVID-19 hit the US, Donald Trump is more focused on playing partisan games and securing his re-election rather than addressing the crisis at hand.

While more than 170 countries have now signed up to participate in a global initiative to provide nations around the world with equal access to safe and effective coronavirus vaccines, once they have been approved, the White House has made it clear that the United States will not be a part of it. The refusal to sign up to the COVAX scheme is the latest step in Trump’s escalating war with the World Health Organization, which his administration has criticized in recent months for its “China-centric” response to the contagion.

This global initiative is not an original idea or a unique concept. When scientific challenges have to be confronted, it is commonplace for governments to collaborate together and with international bodies and experts around the world to explore all potential options in the quest for a solution. The search for a coronavirus vaccine should be no different. The Trump administration’s approach here is further evidence of the wider refusal of the current White House to accept the evidence presented to them by leading figures in the field. That is clear in the side-lining of any individual who has raised concerns about the response of the president and his team.

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One such example is Dr. Anthony Fauci. He has decades of experience and a proven track record of producing strategies to control and eradicate infectious diseases. However, the White House has sought to silence him by limiting his media exposure and refusing to invite him to White House press briefings in recent weeks. What benefit is there in blocking one of the country’s leading experts from giving advice to the White House and the American people? The only reason Trump silences such an eminent scientist is because the president is concerned his own failures will be exposed. That internal fear of experts is now being shown in the external approach that the Trump administration is taking by shunning the WHO and its internationally supported scheme.

The Trump administration is taking an incredibly risky approach here that could both backfire and have damaging long-term effects that last beyond the current situation. By showing an unwillingness to work on an international level to seek out and support any potential vaccines, Trump is doubling down on the belief that America will win the vaccine race. This was reflected in the White House’s defense of the refusal to join COVAX, when a spokesperson claimed that America “will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organisation and China”. The problem with the stance that the Trump administration is taking here is twofold.

First and foremost, it’s important to dismiss the false narrative the Trump administration is presenting. There is nothing to prevent any country from joining the COVAX scheme and, in tandem, working with drug companies on testing and producing a vaccine. On the contrary, it is something that all countries involved in the COVAX scheme would support, as it would increase the likelihood of a successful vaccine being produced. The Trump administration’s misguided approach here reflects how the president is more interested in political posturing against the WHO than he is in tackling the pandemic. Joining COVAX would not constrain America. Rather, it would simply enable the US to pursue an increased number of potential vaccines.

Potentially, if America excludes itself from the COVAX scheme and fails to develop its own solution, this might make it unnecessarily difficult for Americans to have easy access to an effective vaccine. Alternatively, if the US discovers a vaccine outside the COVAX arrangement, this could place strain on cross-border co-operation, and, therefore, fail to stop the disease from spreading, with all the attendant health consequences that flow from that. The vaccine’s availability around the world could be restricted and all countries, including America, would be very vulnerable to a continuing spread of cases caused by international travelers.

The second issue with Trump’s stance is seen in the damaging effects of coronavirus on the country’s financial situation. Beyond the cost on human health, there has been a huge economic hit, resulting in the US experiencing the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and businesses have been forced to close due to the economic shutdown. While there are those in the Trump administration who believe the US economy can be saved through bailout packages and relief funds, the reality is much more complicated than that. As the US relies heavily on the success of the global economy, while other nations are still financially crippled by the virus, America will not be able to fully recover. That’s why international co-operation, such as under COVAX, is so vitally important.

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In today’s world, there is a link between the respective successes, and failures, of nations. If the supply and/or demand is hampered in one country, other nations will suffer, potentially losing business, revenue, and jobs. For as long as America’s trading partners are fighting the pandemic, the US, regardless of its own situation, will continue to suffer disastrous economic effects. That’s why America should be collaborating with other countries for mutual benefit. As Richard Hatchett, the Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, said: “Countries can act alone…or they can come together to participate in COVAX…leaving no country behind.”.

The reality is that Trump’s approach isn’t about the coronavirus pandemic. Rather, Trump sees this as an opportunity for him to continue his destructive fight with the WHO. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump was full of praise for China and the WHO, stating on January 24th that: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency.”. However, as the virus hit the US and the cases and fatalities began to increase, Trump took his usual approach of looking for someone to demonize and blame.

Instead of accepting responsibility for the situation in his own country, implementing a federal response plan, and working with experts to control the contagion, Trump turned his anger on the WHO, froze US funding and formally signaled America’s intent to withdraw from the organization altogether. What could have been an opportunity for Trump to show global leadership in a crisis, by stepping up and working with the WHO and other international players, became another self-defeating move that damaged America’s standing on the world stage. Those who might have once counted on the US in moments like this found themselves baffled by a president who, in a desperate grasp for short term partisan gain, is willing to try and cripple international organizations and allow a deadly virus to cause additional, and unnecessary, deaths and devastation.

Trump has spent his time in office claiming to be the ‘America First’ president but, when taking the approach that he’s adopted, it would be more accurate to describe his strategy as ‘America Alone’. The absence of the United States in COVAX reduces the chances of a positive overall outcome for nations around the world, making America a hindrance rather than a truly global player.

Fundamentally undermining COVAX by the politically motivated decision to refuse to participate sends a message to other countries that America is not a reliable friend who can be trusted to work with its allies. It tells the global community that America is not interested in being a leader on the world stage or even an effective collaborator. Instead, Trump positions America as a nation that wishes only to protect its own interests, refusing to work with others, calling on its allies when it is the interests of the US rather than the whole of the international community. To contain a global pandemic requires a global effort. One nation alone cannot do it.

Refusing to work with the WHO or America’s allies during a global pandemic has dangerous political ramifications and a potentially deadly social outcome. For a time, Trump’s destructive actions during the current pandemic were largely contained within US borders. Now, Trump has taken his reckless behavior from the White House and on to the world stage. Without action from Congress to reverse the Trump administration’s exit from the WHO and the refusal to join COVAX, Americans will continue to be impacted by unnecessary additional suffering from a deadly virus, the international community will feel the absence of a valuable contributor, and the position of the US as a global leader will be diminished.

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Opinion // Coronavirus / Donald Trump / Health / Science / World Health Organization