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Opinion: WHO cuts will lead to maternal and childhood deaths across the world

If President Trump cuts ties with the World Health Organization (WHO), our country will effectively walk away from long-standing commitments to the world’s most vulnerable mothers and children.  

The WHO doesn’t just deal with infectious diseases and pandemics.  Reducing childbirth deaths and childhood mortality has always been a major WHO focus. 

In fact, the Center for Global Health in the Colorado School of Public Health is the only Maternal and Child Health WHO Collaborating Center in the Americas.

Dr. Stephen Berman

The Colorado School of Public Health is an accredited collaborative school of public health representing the University of Colorado at Anschutz, Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado.

We collaborate closely with the WHO regional office in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization, helping to formulate policy, carry out needed research and provide technical assistance to countries as they work to decrease their excessive maternal and childhood deaths. 

Responding to the coronavirus pandemic has strained the already fragile, inadequate hospital and primary care systems in poorer countries. The pandemic further compromises essential services for mothers and children in terms of funding, supplies, medications, personal protective equipment, basic laboratory testing and staffing. 

Mothers and their children will become disproportionate indirect casualties of President Trump’s intent to cut ties with WHO. A recent Lancet Global Health study predicts that up to 56,700 more maternal deaths could also occur in the next six months, in addition to the 144,000 mothers who already die in childbirth in 118 low-resource countries.

The U.N. Children’s Fund has issued a warning that further compromising the existing child health programs in order to combat the novel coronavirus could lead to as many as 1.2 million extra deaths among kids under 5 over the next six months. 

This is in addition to the 2.5 million children who already die every six months before their fifth birthdays across the 118 countries.

Donald Trump’s announcement that he plans to cut ties with the World Health Organization shows his lack of understanding of the broad importance of this organization. 

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He might fault the WHO as it is facing the daunting challenges of the pandemic, a criticism with which I disagree, but in cutting U.S. ties and funding to the WHO, Trump is putting untold millions, not just COVID-19 patients, at greater risk. As a pediatrician who has worked for child health in many countries, to me this is heartbreaking.

Numerous medical and public health professional associations have already spoken out against cutting WHO ties, citing the extraordinarily devastating timing of the decision.

With urgency, I recommend that now is the time for the United States to demonstrate leadership in helping countries worldwide prevent these excessive maternal and child deaths, as well as fight the coronavirus, by increasing our funding for critical WHO activities.

I urge you to contact our senators and congressional delegation to strongly voice your opposition to Trump’s intent to punish WHO for failures, real or perceived, in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Scapegoating WHO will compromise needed efforts to prevent the wrongful deaths of millions of vulnerable mothers and children throughout the world.  


Stephen Berman, MD, FAAP, is director, Center for Global Health, Colorado School of Public Health and a long-time pediatrician at the University of Colorado and The Children’s Hospital.


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