On its face, the idea of exiting the World Health Organization (WHO) during a global pandemic sounds like a terrible idea. But as John Oliver explained on Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” President Trump’s decision to extricate the U.S. from the WHO by July 6, 2021, is even worse than it sounds.
After giving viewers a bit of history on how the WHO almost singlehandedly eradicated smallpox in the 1970s by making one billion house calls in India to ensure the virus had fully disappeared, Oliver helped fill in the details for viewers who had only heard Trump’s side of the story, thanks to the president’s frequent claims that the WHO is a “puppet of China.”
While it is true that the WHO said generally positive things about China’s handling of the coronavirus during the early stages of the pandemic, Oliver pointed out that Trump had as well, noting that Politico tracked 15 instances where the president had praised China’s COVID-19 response. Oliver also noted that the WHO needed to be diplomatic in order to enter China and do its job of attempting to contain the pandemic, and China was less likely to allow the WHO to enter if it was overly critical of the country.
Oliver also acknowledged that the U.S. contributes way more money to the WHO than China, but its contributions have been capped because of changes by Ronald Reagan that capped the amount of non-voluntary contributions a country could make. The WHO’s annual budget is $2.4 billion, approximately the same cost of running a single U.S. hospital for a year. Much of that budget is made up of “voluntary contributions” because Reagan capped the dollar amount of mandatory contributions per country.
“That’s why we pay so much compared to China,” Oliver said. “It’s mostly because we choose to, because the WHO is underfunded, because of something we did.”
In the end, Oliver said Trump’s concerns about the U.S. giving more money to the WHO than China was a small concern given that the health of every human being on the planet is at stake.
“Even though Trump likes to pretend we can insulate ourselves from the rest of the world, if the coronavirus has shown us anything, it’s that diseases don’t recognize borders, and we’re only as strong as our worst-prepared country,” Oliver said. “And pulling out of the WHO at any time, but especially in the midst of a pandemic that’s killed over 200,000 Americans and a million people around the world, is one of the most ill-advised, dumbest things we could possibly do.”