Biden and Harris rush to fix broken relationship with World Health Organization


The United States' longstanding cooperation with the global health agency was fractured under Trump, who insisted on leaving the organization amid the pandemic.

The Biden administration is moving swiftly to mend the United States's partnership with the World Health Organization.

Not long after President Joe Biden was inaugurated on Wednesday, he reversed the nation's withdrawal from the global health agency and restored its funding, a move that counteracted his predecessor Donald Trump's decision to cut ties with the group in the middle of a pandemic.

On Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke over the phone about the United States once again "working as a constructive partner to strengthen and reform the WHO."

"The Vice President emphasized that she and President Biden believe the WHO is vital to controlling COVID-19 and building back better our global health and pandemic preparedness," a readout of the call stated.

Biden named his chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to lead the U.S. delegation on the WHO executive board.

Fauci, who helped lead the coronavirus task force under Trump, joined a virtual WHO meeting on Thursday where he announced that the United States would remain a member of the organization, despite Trump's threats to withdraw last year.

He added that the relationship is "one we value deeply and will look to strengthen moving forward."

Tedros warmly welcomed the efforts to recommit to WHO, saying "this is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health."

"@WHO is a family of nations. We are all glad that the United States of America is staying in the family. #WeAreFamily," he tweeted later. "Thank you my brother Tony for leading the delegation."

Furthermore, Fauci announced that the United States is joining the global COVAX campaign, co-led by the WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance, to get economically underserved, lower-income countries vaccinated.

"President Biden will issue a directive later today which will include the intent of the United States 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.

Under Trump, the United States and Russia were the only developed nations in the world to opt out of participating in COVAX.

"The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China," Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said in September.

The United States's reengagement with the WHO comes after Trump slammed the agency over its initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, for being too slow to act.

Last April, Trump blocked funding to the global health organization, claiming it had "severely mismanag[ed] and cover[ed] up" the threat.

"We have deep concerns about whether America's generosity has been put to the best use possible," he said at the time. "The WHO failed to adequately obtain and share information in a timely and transparent fashion."

He claimed the virus "could have been contained at its source," that and the WHO "must be held accountable."

Then, last July, Trump notified the United Nations of the United States's intention to formally withdraw from WHO, which would have taken effect July 6 this year.

But his rejection of WHO appeared to be an attempt to deflect from his own mishandling of the pandemic at home. Early reported indicated serious missteps in addressing the outbreak nationally, including botched coronavirus test kits by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which later had to be recalled; an underwhelming response at the federal level in assisting states with supply chain problems; and a lack of cohesive strategy by the White House to solve the problem.

Trump was also criticized for his efforts to severely downplay the threat posed by the virus, even as he had information that it was deadly. On multiple occasions, Trump even attempted to tell Americans the virus was less dangerous than the annual flu, despite knowing that was false.

The new administration has taken a starkly different response to the pandemic thus far, moving forward quickly on a comprehensive plan to tackle the crisis, introducing a step-by-step plan on Thursday, one day after Biden took office.

The "National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness" is a 200-page document that outlines seven key goals, including a "safe, effective, equitable vaccination campaign" and restoring U.S. leadership for global health security.

Biden himself called his strategy a "full-scale wartime effort" to combat a pandemic that's claimed over 400,000 lives in the United States.

His administration has also pledged to administer 100 vaccines in 100 days.

Fauci, for his part, said in a White House briefing on Thursday that it was "liberating" to be able to speak truthfully on the coronavirus pandemic response, which he said he "got in trouble sometimes" for under the Trump administration.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.