WashU Expert: WHO withdrawal may not be legal

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President Donald Trump announced July 7 that the United States has officially begun to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO). Trump may or may not have the authority to do so, says an expert on health law at Washington University in St. Louis.

“It’s not clear that the president can unilaterally withdraw the United States from membership in the WHO,” said Rachel Sachs, associate professor of law and a renowned expert on health policy and drug law.

Rachel Sachs

“The WHO Constitution is a treaty that the United States has ratified with the consent of Congress,” she said. “It’s not clear that the executive can withdraw us from the agreement without Congress’ consent.”

Even if the president does have the authority to do so, Sachs said, “when the United States ratified the WHO Constitution, it agreed that it would pay all outstanding dues before withdrawing.”

The U.S. is the global health agency’s largest single contributor, providing more than $400 million in 2019, around 15% of its total budget. According to The Associated Press, the U.S. currently owes the WHO around $200 million in current and past dues.

“America’s withdrawal from the WHO will not only harm global health, but it will also make Americans less safe,” Sachs said.

As one example, the U.S. would no longer have access to the WHO’s system for sharing information about new outbreaks, making it more difficult for us to both respond to COVID-19 and also to respond to future outbreaks of other diseases.

“More regularly, it also means that the U.S. will have less information about the seasonal flu and will not be able to have a say in which flu strains international officials decide to prioritize in the development of the annual vaccine,” she said.

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