President Joe Biden reassigned the United States to the World Health Organization during his first term. On Thursday, the new administration appointed its leading infectious disease expert to represent the United States at WHO.
That person is of course Dr. Anthony Fauci, who became a celebrity during the Trump administration for his fact-based communication with the public about the Covid-19 pandemic in an administration that was far from easy.
Fauci is now a senior member of Biden’s Covid-19 Response Team and appeared on video at the WHO executive meeting. Fauci reiterated that the US would remain a member of the global health authority and reversed former President Donald Trump’s attempt to withdraw from the panel.
“As a WHO Member State, the United States will work constructively with partners to strengthen and, most importantly, reform the WHO to enhance the collective effort to strengthen the international COVID-19 response and address its secondary effects on people, communities and people to direct health systems around the world, “said Fauci on Thursday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on a video call to the WHO board to announce that the United States would remain with the organization: “I am honored to announce that the United States will continue to be a member of the World Health Organization” https: // t .co / l0R6hrlSez pic.twitter.com/zUZhVan1Ms
– ABC News (@ABC) January 21, 2021
Fauci’s appearance before the WHO takes place on the anniversary of the first coronavirus case discovered in the United States. A full year later, more than 400,000 Americans have died from the virus, and 2 million people have died worldwide.
Fauci said Thursday that the Biden government will work with the World Health Organization and the rest of the world to respond to and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
To that end, Fauci said the Biden administration would issue a policy later Thursday that would bring the United States to Covax, the global initiative for the development and equitable distribution of vaccine doses worldwide. More than 170 countries are members of the initiative despite the Trump administration refusing to join – an outlier along with Russia.
The U.S. Congress has allocated approximately $ 4 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an organization focused on vaccination campaigns worldwide. Gavi is One of the main partners in Covax (along with the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) of the Covid-19 aid package was adopted late last year to help spread Covid-19 vaccines around the world. Experts I’ve spoken to said this is viewed as likely for Covax funding, but it’s not yet clear exactly how much the Biden administration will commit. (The Biden White House hasn’t returned a request for comment, but we’ll update if we hear anything.)
Biden’s plan to withdraw Trump’s withdrawal from WHO was anticipated, and the new administration had announced that it would attend Covax earlier this week. However, sending Fauci to WHO was a subtle yet clear way for the government to show how seriously they take their international commitments and efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organization also seemed quite relieved to welcome the US back to the group as it is the largest contributor to the United Nations health agency. “The role of the United States, its global rule, is very, very important,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Secretary General. “We have much work to do and lessons to be learned to end the pandemic and to meet the long list of global health challenges – the world will be better able to handle them with you.”
A warm welcome – but there is still a long way to go
Fauci, in his remarks on Thursday, said the Biden government “intends to do its utmost to promote global health.”
This agenda is bigger than just Covid-19. It encompasses broader global health and health security efforts, including fighting other diseases such as HIV / AIDS and supporting sexual and reproductive health and the rights of women and girls. The Biden administration, Fauci said, would repeal Trump’s “Mexico City Rule,” which blocked US federal government funding for any global health organization that provided abortion or family planning services.
Again, many of these steps are expected and welcomed, especially by global health advocates.
But Fauci also hinted at some of the battles ahead, including investigating the causes of the coronavirus pandemic and reform issues at the agency.
“We recognize that it will not be easy to respond to COVID-19, rebuild global health and advance health security worldwide,” he said on Thursday. “In this regard, we are committed to transparency, including what happened around the early days of the pandemic. It is imperative that we learn and build on important lessons on how to avert future pandemic events. The international investigation should be robust and clear, and we look forward to evaluating it. “
The Trump administration sharply criticized the WHO throughout the pandemic, accusing the agency of being indebted to China.
But Trump was not alone in his criticism. China has delayed warning the world of the threat and has tightly controlled information about the origins of the virus.
Julia Belluz of Vox reported, “Instead of raising awareness of these issues, WHO has frequently praised China and, as the Times reported, traded moral authority for access to and leverage with a powerful country.”
WHO investigators landed in China last week to really start their investigation, though China is still trying hard to control the narrative. Investigators have to rely on China for information and access, which is likely to hinder any investigation.
But the Trump administration’s response – withdrawing from WHO – did little to effectively pressurize the organization or China. The reality is that WHO is made up of a number of individual member states, all of which are sovereign countries with their own agendas. The agency’s ability to do anything depends on what the most powerful countries on the panel want. If the US resigns, China will of course fill that vacuum. As one expert told me, the US “lost influence in this conversation because [it had] stepped from the field. ”
The Biden administration is essentially trying to take a step back on the field with the aim of pushing for accountability and transparency from within. As Fauci said, the Biden government wants to work with WHO on reforms and “improving mechanisms for responding to health emergencies”.
It will take time as a single day under a new administration is unlikely to be enough to rebuild trust and repair relationships – or to reverse the influence of other countries that stepped in to fill the vacuum left by the US.
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