President Joe Biden reversed his predecessor’s attempt to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday, a course correction that signals the new administration’s commitment to protecting global health.
Returning to the WHO means that the United States will now participate in and help fund the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, known as COVAX, which is the primary global framework for vaccinating people in low- and middle-income countries against COVID-19. COVAX aims to secure 2.1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021, but has been unable to secure enough funding.
Under Biden’s leadership, the US could become a leading donor to COVAX and accelerate the program’s efforts.
The US will also join the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which aims to ensure all countries have access to treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, thus ensuring nobody is left behind.
The WHO has played a significant role in containing the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has helped to track the virus, develop treatments, train health care professionals, expand health care infrastructure, advise governments on best practices, and facilitate global cooperation.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, celebrated the return of the US in remarks at the WHO’s 148th Session of the Executive Board on Thursday.
“Since WHO’s founding in 1948, the United States has played a vital role in global health, and the American people have made enormous contributions to the health of the world’s people,” Dr. Tedros said.
“We look forward to continuing this partnership, as I know all member states do,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do and lessons to learn, to end the pandemic and to meet the long list of global health challenges we face — but the world will be better able to meet them with you.”
The US has historically been the largest donor to the WHO, supplying roughly a fifth of the organization’s operating budget between 2018 and 2019. These funds went toward areas far beyond pandemic preparedness, including the eradication of polio; family, maternal, and child health; and HIV and hepatitis research.
The US’ renewed partnership with the WHO will be overseen by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the US’ National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH), who became an esteemed medical figure during the COVID-19 crisis.
In remarks to the 148th executive session, Fauci outlined how the US will support the WHO.
“We will commit to building global health security capacity, expanding pandemic preparedness, and supporting efforts to strengthen health systems around the world and to advance the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.
He said that the US will help improve funding pathways for global health, expand global research capacity, and fortify pandemic supply chains, while working with partners to be better prepared for the next pandemic.
“The United States stands ready to work in partnership and solidarity to support the international COVID-19 response, mitigate its impact on the world, strengthen our institutions, advance epidemic preparedness for the future, and improve the health and wellbeing of all people throughout the world,” he concluded.