WASHINGTON – Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), were joined by a group of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats in sending a letter to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General World Health Organization (WHO), to advance a productive relationship between the U.S. and the WHO as well as inquire about the organization’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the primary international organization responding to global health challenges, the WHO’s work around the world has been invaluable in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” wrote the Senators. “While there are valid criticisms and questions about the WHO’s response to the rapidly evolving pandemic—just as there are valid criticisms and questions about how many national governments have responded—there is no question that without the WHO’s efforts, this crisis would be infinitely worse.”
Joining Menendez in sending the letter were Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
Citing their ongoing efforts to craft an effective U.S. response to COVID-19 and to chart a path forward for constructive U.S. engagement with the WHO despite Trump’s shortsighted attacks, the senators listed a series of specific questions about the WHO’s initial response and ongoing work to combat the global health crisis presented by coronavirus.
A copy of the letter can be found HERE and below:
Dear Dr. Tedros:
We write to express our support for the World Health Organization and its efforts to respond to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. As the primary international organization responding to global health challenges, the WHO’s work around the world has been invaluable in slowing the spread of COVID-19. While there are valid criticisms and questions about the WHO’s response to the rapidly evolving pandemic—just as there are valid criticisms and questions about how many national governments have responded—there is no question that without the WHO’s efforts, this crisis would be infinitely worse. As the past few months have showed more than ever, the safety and security of Americans is directly linked with the health and well-being of people all over the world.
Throughout its long and enduring partnership with the United States, the WHO has helped make great strides: eradicating smallpox, significantly decreasing polio cases, and successfully responding to SARS and MERS. The WHO effectively serves as a force multiplier for U.S. efforts. As a USAID implementing partner, the WHO often works in dangerous settings where few other organizations are willing to serve. In March 2019, for example, the WHO was the only international organization to stay in Katwa and Butembo after two Ebola treatment centers were fire-bombed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In short, the organization is indispensable.
As the United States considers policy changes to mitigate the impact of future waves of COVID-19 in our own country, we must utilize our role in the WHO to garner best practices of other countries and share information that will promote overall health and well-being of people across the world. There are serious concerns that the WHO did not pressure China for more transparency in the early days of the outbreak and did not appropriately alert the world about the nature of the pandemic in a timely manner. We would like to translate these concerns into understanding how the WHO operates under its current guiding principles and binding governance mechanisms, including the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR), that have been agreed upon by its member states. Specifically, we would like to understand the detailed steps the WHO took to obtain, verify, and share information about COVID-19 from the Chinese government.
We strongly feel, however, that these concerns do not justify President Trump’s shortsighted declaration that he will terminate the United States’ relationship with the WHO in the midst of a pandemic.
We are deeply concerned that this decision will negatively impact the WHO’s efforts to lead a global response to COVID-19, in addition to other global health priorities and progress now jeopardized by the pandemic. To that end, we welcome your insight on how an absence of U.S. support for the WHO will impact its work around the globe. We ask that you provide complete responses to the following questions as we work to craft the U.S. response to COVID-19 and assess a path forward for constructive U.S. engagement with the WHO.
We applaud the WHO’s continuing work to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and promote public health around the world. We believe in a productive relationship between the United States and the WHO and hope you will help us in our continued efforts to bolster the global response to this pandemic as well as future outbreaks.
Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.