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The World Health Organization is really on my mind. Last week, I noted my overall support for the WHO but pointed to weaknesses in its approach to research and studies about online pharmacies. Then, two days later, I read The New York Times Editorial Board’s take in an article called Don’t Leave the W.H.O. Strengthen It, and I just have to recommend you read it. 

President Trump has stated that we will withdraw from the WHO, stating things about the organization that are not true – but also making legitimate criticisms. Do we quit the Department of Health and Human Services or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because of their many failures? I mean on the political fringes of U.S. politics, anarchists and free market fanatics, you might find some support for quitting the federal government! But no, we need those government entities to protect and improve our health as a nation. There are many areas of public health, however, that we can’t deal with effectively alone as one country, and that’s where the WHO is really needed. Say, for things like… um, er, let me think… global pandemics.

For a full account of fact checking Trump’s statements about the WHO, please see FactChecking Trump’s Attack on the WHO.

See also: Trump’s own words on the World Health Organization

As I see it, our president used the WHO as a scapegoat for his administration’s own delayed response to the novel coronavirus. At the same time, Trump’s criticism of the WHO’s overly-generous acceptance of China’s narrative on the virus has merit and is shared by other respected world leaders. We’d be remiss to negate warranted criticism of an organization to which we invest significant U.S. dollars just to climb on the bandwagon of attacking yet another presidential foible.

A central point is that the WHO is involved with many public health efforts having nothing to do with global pandemics. Even Trump has stated:

“Since its establishment in 1948, the American people have generously supported the World Health Organization to provide better health outcomes for the world and, most importantly, to help prevent global health crises.”

WHO’s most celebrated efforts are for its child vaccination programs, which has saved hundreds of millions of lives. We should continue and even double down on our generosity to WHO to improve its initiatives to tackle pandemics of the future.

My interest is also piqued on this topic because Americans are subject to an oppressive drug pricing regime, wielded through regulations that help maximize drug company profits over patients. In addition to overall healthcare services and public health, the WHO is active on issues involving prescription drug availability, safety, quality, and increasingly turning its attention to drug prices. Over the long haul, the WHO can actually help Americans on this issue. For a taste of what that looks like, see this interview with Suzanne Hill, the WHO Director of Essential Medicines and Health Products Department about a “fair pricing model” for prescription drugs.

The NY Times Editorial Board showed its more pro-Pharma side, ironically, saying [emphasis added]:

“State Department officials also warned the president that defunding W.H.O. programs could be disastrous, not only for efforts to contain the coronavirus, but for other longer-standing efforts, including to eradicate polio, in which the U.S. already has invested hundreds of millions of dollars. If those efforts falter now, all of that investment will be lost. Pulling out of the W.H.O. also will severely limit the administration’s ability to influence international drug pricing regimes and vaccine distribution efforts, including for the coronavirus.”

The WHO is working on drug prices. Pharma wants a seat at the table, and they get that through the FDA and industry influence. However, I believe long-term participation with the WHO on medicine safety and pricing will work to the advantage of American consumers. Now is the time to globally engage on this and other public health issues – not quit.

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