The US rejoined the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday in one of the first official orders of the Joe Biden presidency, reversing a key foreign policy decision his predecessor Donald Trump took last year after accusing the UN health agency of incompetence and bowing to Chinese pressure over the coronavirus pandemic.
In April last year, as the coronavirus pandemic was spreading across the globe, Trump cut off US funding to the WHO, saying it was “virtually controlled by China.” He then went further, triggering the process to pull the US completely out of the organisation. The withdrawal was due to go into effect in July this year, but Biden’s order will cancel it.
During her phone call on Thursday, Harris discussed the decision by the Biden administration to rejoin the WHO with the health agency’s Director-General Dr. Ghebreyesus.
Harris emphasised that she and Biden believe that the WHO is vital to controlling the spread of COVID-19 and building back better global health and pandemic preparedness, according to a readout of the call issued by the White House.
“The vice president and the director-general also discussed the resumption of the United States’ role in the global public health and humanitarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said.
Harris also stressed on the Biden-Harris administration’s strong support for efforts to strengthen the global COVID-19 response, mitigate its secondary impacts, including on women and girls, and advance global health security to prevent the next outbreak from becoming an epidemic or pandemic.
She emphasised the importance of making the US safer through global cooperation, the White House said.
Ghebreyesus thanked Harris for the call and congratulated her and Biden on their inauguration. Both the director-general and the vice president reiterated that they look forward to meeting in person.
Earlier in the day, Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, while addressing the WHO executive board meeting said the US will cease the drawdown of its staff seconded to the agency.
The US will also resume regular engagement of its government personnel with the WHO both directly and through the agency’s collaborating centres, he said.
The United States intends to fulfil its financial obligations to the organisation. It sees technical collaboration at all levels as a fundamental part of our relationship with the WHO, one that we value deeply and look to strengthen going forward, Fauci said.
“As a WHO member state, the United States will work constructively with partners to strengthen and importantly reform the WHO, to help lead the collective effort to strengthen the international COVID-19 response and address its secondary impacts on people, communities, and health systems around the world,” he added.
The Biden administration also intends to be fully engaged in advancing global health, supporting global health security and the global health security agenda, and building a healthier future for all people.
“I am also pleased to announce today that the United States plans to work multilaterally to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. President Biden will issue a directive later today which will include the intent of the US to join COVAX and support the ACT-Accelerator to advance multilateral efforts for COVID-19 vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic distribution, equitable access, and research and development,” Fauci said.
The US will also work with the WHO and member states to counter the erosion of major gains in global health that we have achieved through decades of research, collaboration and investments in health and health security, including in HIV/AIDS, food security, malaria, and epidemic preparedness, he said.