At the top of Sunday’s new episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver started the night by commenting on the unimpressive Amy Coney Barrett hearings preordained by the Republican party and touching on Thursday night’s dueling Town Halls between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
In particular, he focused on Trump’s high point where a woman complimented his smile to which Oliver described as as if “someone dropped their dentures into a Jack O’ Latnern on November 14”. He also said that Trump “has a smile that could light up a cross.”
The aforementioned woman quickly turned and then asked Trump about cutting the DACA program. “Wow that may be the perfect way to ask Trump a question,” Oliver said. He added”Trump’s Town Hall, like his entire campaign, was extremely light on policy details because he doesn’t like to talk in specifica about what a second Trump term would mean. He’s made very few concrete promises other than “I will not leave”, “I will not die” and “I will give you COVID personally.”
Oliver said that the good news is that WHO’s constitution does not include any provisions for members to withdraw, but the bad news is that there is one exception to that rule which is the U.S. which passed a resolution that they can withdraw with one year’s notice. “That’s a pretty weird perk for America to have,” he remarked.
So what does this all mean? Oliver unpacked all of this, starting with what WHO does. The organization has 194 member states — which is nearly every country on earth. They address a wide range of health issues including global responses to threats, diseases and providing access to care They have the ability to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and can issue recommendations on how countries should respond — but it has no power to enforce said recommendations.
Despite limitations, WHO has accomplished many things including eradicating the world of smallpox. They also develop the seasonal flu vaccines and they track and respond to outbreaks. At the same time, WHO isn’t perfect. They were criticized for its slow response to the Ebola outbreak.
Oliver adds, “When, let’s say hypothetically, a pandemic breaks out the organization can provide a critical role as a central clearinghouse of information conducting investigations and releasing information to the public and it does all of it on a budget of $2.4 billion a year.” It may sound like that is a lot of money, but it is about the same amount to run a single U.S. hospital.
One of the problems that Trump has complained about is how much the U.S. gives to WHO compared to China. In 2019, the U.S. gave $446.5 million versus China’s $43 million. Yes, there’s a big discrepancy — but Trump does not understand the nuance.
WHO’s funding is 17% is assessed, which is basically membership dues. 80% is voluntary. Countries donate and essentially earmark what they want it used for. Oliver said that most of what the U.S. pays is voluntary while China chooses to pay almost nothing.
“This whole mess is almost entirely America’s fault,” Oliver said. “Back in the 1980s the Reagan administration pushed a zero-growth policy for the WHO’s budget which eventually froze states’ assessed contributions at 1990s levels. With those contributions unable to go up, the WHO naturally needed more and more voluntary contributions as the years have gone by.”
Oliver laid it all out on the table saying that the U.S. pays chose to pay more because the WHO is underfunded as a result of something the U.S. did.
Trump’s other problem with WHO is his claims that the organization is a “literal pipe organ” to China. Trump and his supporters argue that the WHO mishandled the pandemic because they are differential to China. Oliver said that there is truth in the two halves of the statement, but they aren’t true together.
When it comes to WHO being deferential to China, Oliver said “that can be true”. Its members states’ consistently acquiesce that Taiwan not be able to join the WHO as a separate entity. WHO also praised China’s approach to contain the rapid spread of this coronavirus — and that does not date well because WHO needs to be diplomatic with member states to get the access it needs for on the ground investigations as an outbreak emerges. However, let’s not forget that Trump also praised China’s response.
As for WHO’s mistakes with the pandemic, they arguably took too long to advise universal mask-wearing and to clearly acknowledge the threat of indoor airborne transmission. However, Oliver said there “is no evidence at all that this was done to appease China.”
Oliver also says that no one is looking for a U.S.-based alternative to WHO. When it comes to global health, U.S. has a checkered past. The CIA organized a fake vaccination drive to get Osama bin Laden’s family. “It’s not like we’re going to make friends by walking away from the WHO during a pandemic,” said Oliver. “It’s taking the fire engines away while fighting a fire… it’s the worst possible decision at the worst possible time.”
As the U.S. attempts to pull out of WHO, the organization is close to eradicating out polio. Two months ago it was wiped out in Africa. Unfortunately the U.S. is the second largest funder of the Polio Global Eradication Initiative and that money disappearing is a setback.
“It is fine if the US has problems with the WHO — it has problems,” explains Oliver. “But the solution clearly isn’t to walk away. It’s to try and fix them but the only way for the U.S. to have a say in how that happens is to have a seat at the table and we’re about to give that up.”
He continued, “This is yet another depressing example of Trump seeing something that involves shared sacrifice, trade-offs and complexity.. he decides to just blow up because he doesn’t understand it, doesn’t care or both.”
The U.S. is set to withdraw from WHO July 6, 2021 — but that is if Trump is re-elected. The country’s membership in the WHO is yet another important thing on the ballot this year.
“If the coronavirus shown us anything is that diseases don’t recongnize borders and we’re only as strong as our worst prepared country” said Oliver. “Pulling out of the WHO at any time, but especially in the midst of pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans and a million people around the world, is one of the most ill-advised, dumbest things we can possibly do — and I mean that f**king literally.”
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