After ceding climate leadership, the US is now forgoing its role as global-health leader

Trump has turned America’s back on public health.
Trump has turned America’s back on public health.
Image: Reuters/Yuri Gripas
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

On Tuesday, the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared it was in the early stages of another Ebola outbreak, which health officials believe may have already killed as many as 17 people. The same day (May 8), Tim Ziemer, the head of global-health security on the White House security council, abruptly left his post.

The two events aren’t linked, but the juxtaposition points to bigger worries.

It’s not clear why Ziemer left. A spokesperson for the US National Security Council told the Huffington Post that Ziemer’s departure was on “the warmest of terms.” What’s apparent, though, is that the newly open post is just the latest in a slew of setbacks for public health under the Trump administration. This same week, even after the Ebola outbreak had been confirmed by experts, Trump proposed a series of federal budget cuts that included the elimination of $252 million left-over funding from the last horrific Ebola outbreak from 2015, which had been set aside for future outbreaks. And a month ago, Tom Bossert, the homeland security adviser who had championed the creation of a first-ever biosecurity defense strategy, was reportedly forced out by Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton.

“What this all adds up to is a potentially really concerning rollback of progress on US health security preparedness,” Jeremy Konyndyk, the former Obama-era director of foreign disaster assistance at the US Agency for International Development, told the Washington Post (paywall). Without adequate leadership and dedicated funding for pandemic preparedness, US global-health security has a gaping hole.

It’s not just pandemic preparedness that has taken a hit under Trump. Public health in general is threatened by the president’s decisions over the past year and a half. He appointed someone to lead a commission on vaccine safety who believes vaccines cause autism (it does not). Actions he’s taken on abortion—such as systematically chipping away at protections enshrined under Roe v. Wade—have limited resources for women not only in America, but also those around the globe. And last week, he appointed Dr. Oz, the TV personality famous for misleading the public on health, to the president’s council on sports, fitness, and nutrition.

It’s a pattern—appointing undeserving candidates, rolling back well-meaning regulations, and isolating the US from the rest of the world—we’ve seen before, with climate change. Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate denier, as the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, where he has gutted the agency’s work on mitigating climate change. He appointed Rick Perry, who once demanded that the department of energy be disbanded, to lead that very agency; in this role, Perry has attempted to prop up the declining and climate-threatening coal industry. Trump pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement, repealed the Clean Power Plan that would have saved US lives while also making the energy sector greener, and is now going after automakers for making fuel-efficient cars that would have saved Americans money and cut US emissions.

The US has become a climate pariah, as the only country not working towards the goals in the Paris climate agreement. In the process it has ceded leadership to China, the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, which now appears more willing to uphold a rules-based world than is the US. Similarly, Trump’s disregard for global health means someone else may have to step up to the plate.