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ASH Statement: Leaving and Halting Funding to the World Health Organization Harms More Than the COVID-19 Response

Statement from Action on Smoking & Health
Leaving and Halting Funding to the World Health Organization Harms More Than the COVID-19 Response*

Contact: Megan Arendt
(202) 659-4310

WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 7, 2020 – On April 14, 2020, President Trump ordered his administration to halt funding to the World Health Organization, pending a review of its actions around the COVID-19 pandemic. And on July 7, 2020 the U.S. government gave formal notice of its withdrawal from the WHO, effective 2021.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the leading agency for international health in the United Nations system. The WHO works with 194 Member States, across six regions, and from more than 150 offices. The World Health Organization received reports from China about the first cases of coronavirus in December 2019. On Wednesday, March 11, WHO declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. As of April 15, at approximately 2:45 PM, authorities in 211 countries and territories have reported more than 2,023,000 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and 132,276 deaths. The pandemic has reached every continent except Antarctica, and today, the United States has decided to halt its contributions to WHO, which account for approximately 20% of its total budget.

ASH, our colleagues, public health advocates and leaders around the world are appalled by this action. The American Medical Association said the decision was a “dangerous step in the wrong direction.” António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, stated, “It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19.” Bill Gates wrote, “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.”

 The WHO already has a limited budget. For 2020 and 2021, its budget for carrying out its programs is $4.8 billion, or $2.4 billion per year, about the size of a large U.S. hospital, or one-quarter of the budget for the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That $2.4 billion a year is to carry out all of the World Health Organization’s activities, not just those related to coronavirus.

And COVID response (or even pandemic response) is far from the entirety of the World Health Organization’s work. In addition to communicable diseases, like the novel coronavirus, Ebola, malaria, and others, the World Health Organization works, among myriad other things, on non-communicable diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, lung diseases and risk factors, such as tobacco.

Furthermore, the WHO serves as a platform to develop solutions to global health challenges. For example, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the first international global health treaty, was negotiated under the auspices of WHO.

Due to ASH’s work on the tobacco treaty, as well as the non-communicable disease agenda, we have a long-standing working relationship with the World Health Organization. Many of the core principles of our organization are shared by WHO. We both believe in evidence-based approaches.  We both believe in the power of world-wide collaboration. Most importantly, we both believe that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” Otherwise known as the right to health, this right is enshrined in the WHO Constitution, and is a fundamental human right that ASH strives to achieve through every aspect of our work.

Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet medical journal, may have said it best. “President Trump’s decision to defund WHO is simply this—a crime against humanity. Every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this appalling betrayal of global solidarity.”

We agree. ASH stands with the World Health Organization. We encourage everyone who is able to donate to the World Health Organization; to help fight COVID-19, diseases caused by tobacco, and to achieve the highest attainable standard of health for all people around the world.

Click here to donate to the World Health Organization.


Founded in 1967, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is America’s oldest anti-tobacco organization, dedicated to a world with ZERO tobacco deaths. Because tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, ASH supports bold solutions proportionate to the magnitude of the problem. https://ash.org


*Title, date, and 1st paragraph edited on 7/7/20 to reflect the U.S. government giving formal notice to leave the WHO.