The United States has announced that it will resume funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) and join its consortium aimed at sharing COVID-19 vaccines fairly around the globe, President Joe Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic said on Thursday.
Dr Anthony Fauci’s quick commitment to the WHO, whose response to the pandemic has been criticized by many, but perhaps most vociferously by the Trump administration, marks a dramatic and vocal shift toward a more cooperative approach to fighting the pandemic.
“I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” Fauci told a virtual meeting of the WHO from the United States, where it was 4:10 a.m. in Washington.
It was the first public statement by a member of Biden’s administration to an international audience — and a sign of the priority that the new president has made of fighting COVID-19 both at home and with world partners.
Just hours after Biden’s inauguration Wednesday, he wrote a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres saying the U.S. had reversed the planned pullout from the WHO that was expected to take effect in July.
The withdrawal from the WHO was rich with symbolism, another instance of America’s go-it-alone strategy under Trump.
But it also had practical ramifications: The U.S. halted funding for the U.N. health agency — stripping it of cash from the country that has long been its biggest donor just as the agency was battling the health crisis that has killed more than 2 million people worldwide.
The U.S. had also pulled back staff from the organization.
Fauci said the Biden administration will resume “regular engagement” with WHO and will “fulfill its financial obligations to the organization.”
The WHO chief and others jumped in to welcome the U.S. announcements.
“This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“The role of the United States, its role, global role is very, very crucial.”
The two men hinted at a warm relationship between them, with Fauci calling Tedros his “dear friend” and Tedros referring to Fauci as “my brother Tony.”
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called it “great news” in an email.
“The world has always been a better place when the U.S. plays a leadership role in solving global health problems including the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, polio and other diseases,” he said.
Fauci also said Biden will issue a directive Thursday that shows the United States’ intent to join the COVAX Facility, a project to deploy COVID-19 vaccines to people in need around the world — whether in rich or poor countries.
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