America Re-Enters the WHO Fold in Latest Reversal of Trump Policy

Top U.S. infectious disease advisor Anthony Fauci made the announcement Thursday, saying the nation’s Covid-19 response strategy will include financing the World Health Organization.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Dec. 22, before receiving his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden’s administration told global leaders Thursday that the United States will rescind the Trump administration’s attempted withdrawal from the United Nations health agency.

Speaking at a virtual meeting with the World Health Organization early Thursday, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci shared that President Biden had written to Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Gutteres and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus shortly after his inauguration Wednesday. 

The letters indicated that the Biden administration will resume financial contributions to WHO and also retract the Trump administration’s move to draw down U.S. staff from the agency. 

Fauci, whom Biden tapped as his chief medical adviser, framed the move as a step to mark the U.S.’s commitment to global coordination efforts amid the pandemic.

“We realize that responding to Covid-19 and rebuilding global health and advancing health security around the world will not be easy,” Fauci said. “And in this regard, we are committed to transparency, including those events surrounding the early days of the pandemic. It is imperative that we learn and build upon important lessons about how future pandemic events can be averted.”

Biden had promised to rejoin the WHO on his first day via tweet in July after then-President Donald Trump had notified the United Nations that it would undertake the 12-month withdrawal notice period required of members.

Shortly after the novel coronavirus was declared a pandemic, Trump cut U.S. funds to the WHO in April on claims that it “mismanaged” and “covered up” the initial outbreak of the disease in Wuhan, China. As the U.S. had long been the agency’s biggest donor, the move was widely criticized by experts, especially in the context of the global pandemic.

Fauci remarked that Biden will issue a directive later today that will include the intent of the U.S. to join Covax, a vaccination initiative that aims to deliver vaccines to poor countries. Coordinated by the WHO and others, Covax is one of three components in the ACT Accelerator, short for Access to Covid-19 Tools, which is a forum for sharing information behind the development and production of Covid-19 tests, treatments, vaccines between countries and deployment strategies to get the vaccines distributed. The U.S. had been the wealthiest, highest-profile country holding out from Covax.

According to Covid-19 data collected by Johns Hopkins, the United States has seen more than 24 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 400,000 related deaths. Fauci tipped his hat Thursday to WHO for leading the global public health response to the pandemic, noting that the world has seen over 90 million cases in the last year and that the number is continuing to grow. As a member of the agency, he vowed U.S. support in all current and future pandemic mitigation efforts.

“We will seek an improved, shared system for early warning and rapid response to emerging biological threats. We will support scientifically robust and ethically sound collaborative science, research and research capacity building, as well as the rapid sharing of research results, pathogen samples and data essential to research progress,” Fauci said. “We will look to strengthen pandemic supply chain networks. And we will work with partners around the world to build a system that leaves us better prepared for this pandemic and for the next one.”

Representatives from other countries expressed excitement at the move.

“This is going to have a huge impact on the world’s ability to fight the pandemic,” Denmark’s Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said Thursday in a statement on Facebook. “It is decisive that the United States is involved as a driving force and not a country that is looking for the exit when a global catastrophe rages.”

According to reports from the Associated Press, the WHO chief indicated he was pleased with the decision on the call Thursday.

“This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” Director-General Adhanom said. “The role of the United States, its role, global role is very, very crucial.”

Rejoining the WHO is part of the Biden administration’s plan to beat Covid-19. Per the White House’s site, the administration’s plan states that a good relationship with WHO “is essential to coordinating a global response during a pandemic.” 

In an executive summary Thursday, the Biden administration team noted the U.S. will be participating in the WHO Executive Board meeting later month “and will take actions to strengthen and reform the WHO.”

“We can and will beat Covid-19. America deserves a response to the Covid-19 pandemic that is driven by science, data, and public health — not politics,” the Biden administration wrote.

The move was one of many of Biden’s first day acts, others of which included rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, and issuing a mandate requiring masks and physical distancing on federal lands and buildings and by all federal employees. 

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