It's not so easy for the US to withdraw from WHO

2 June, 2020

WHO is probably the most important producer of public (and private) health information in the world, and it is experiencing a major threat to its funding and public reputation. This situation is clearly relevant to all of us on HIFA.

A recent article in Devex by Jenny Lei Ravelo asks How could the US withdraw from WHO? ( ).

A good question. On 29 May, US President Trump said "we are terminating today, any relationship with WHO". However, there are no provisions in WHO's Constitution on Member State withdrawal. Basically (according to Gian Luca Burci, former Legal Counsel of WHO), the U.S. Congress laid out its own conditions for withdrawal when the government signed on to become a member of WHO in 1948. The conditions state that 'the United States reserves its right to withdraw from the organization on a one-year notice: Provided, however, that the financial obligations of the United States to the organization shall be met in full for the organization's current fiscal year.'

So far (as of 1 June), WHO has not yet received any formal notice from Washington – and these conditions have not yet been fulfilled. The U.S. has an outstanding balance of close to $100 million in assessed contributions as of 30 April 2020.

In addition to uncertainty over the year's notice and payment of dues, it's also unclear who has the final authority on the withdrawal. It would probably require a formal decision by the Congress, which has a Democrat-controlled House and a Republican Senate – and the small issue of an election coming up in November.

Chris Zielinski

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Research publications:

HIFA profile: Chris Zielinski: As a Visiting Fellow in the Centre for Global Health, Chris leads the Partnerships in Health Information (Phi) programme at the University of Winchester. Formerly an NGO, Phi supports knowledge development and brokers healthcare information exchanges of all kinds. Chris has held senior positions in publishing and knowledge management with WHO in Brazzaville, Geneva, Cairo and New Delhi, with FAO in Rome, ILO in Geneva, and UNIDO in Vienna. Chris also spent three years in London as Chief Executive of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society. He was the founder of the ExtraMED project (Third World biomedical journals on CD-ROM), and managed the Gates Foundation-supported Health Information Resource Centres project. He served on WHO’s Ethical Review Committee, and was an originator of the African Health Observatory. Chris has been a director of the World Association of Medical Editors, UK Copyright Licensing Agency, Educational Recording Agency, and International Association of Audiovisual Writers and Directors. He has served on the boards of several NGOs and ethics groupings (information and computer ethics and bioethics). UK-based, he is also building houses in Zambia. chris AT

His publications are at and and his blogs are and