On July 7, in the midst of a global pandemic, the Trump administration officially started the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization (WHO).
As a public health and human rights organization, Ipas condemns this dangerous and reckless move—one that will undermine global efforts to coordinate the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The timing couldn’t be more harmful; the pandemic has shone a light on longstanding health and social inequities. The risk for contracting or getting seriously ill from COVID-19 is increased for the most marginalized communities in the world, particularly people living in low- to middle-income countries.
Since 1946, WHO has been responsible for providing global guidance and technical assistance to countries on preserving and improving health and strengthening their health systems. WHO has also played a key role in promoting global sexual and reproductive health. WHO’s COVID-19 clinical guidance states that women’s reproductive health services, including access to contraception and safe abortion, are essential health care during the pandemic.
“We know that in times of crisis, women and girls are at an increased risk of unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortion for many reasons,” says Anu Kumar, president and CEO of Ipas. “The U.S. withdrawal from WHO will have a devastating impact on women’s health globally and is just another example of the administration’s anti-human rights agenda.”
The Trump Administration has systematically attacked WHO, including attempts to weaken or block references to sexual and reproductive health in World Health Assembly resolutions and in WHO’s Programme of Work, even at a meeting in May over the COVID-19 response resolution. Although the administration endorsed the resolution, it issued an explanation stating that it “disassociates” itself from the only two paragraphs that address sexual and reproductive rights.
“The hallmark of this administration is its dedication to eviscerating human rights—with a sinister focus on sexual and reproductive rights. Even before the pandemic, the Trump administration was using spurious arguments to defund and leave WHO. The coronavirus is simply its most recent pretext,” says Gillian Kane, senior technical lead for policy and advocacy at Ipas. The global pandemic is not the time to play with people’s lives. The Trump administration should be actively working to assist global efforts to ensure that life-saving health care, including abortion, is accessible and available to all who need it. It should not be withdrawing its support from the one organization whose mandate is enshrined in its constitution and centered on “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.”
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