The World of International Organizations

WHO welcomes U.S. back to the ‘family’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, left, and WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesuscases at a virtual meeting (AN/WHO)

The U.N. health agency basked in a sense of fellowship from renewed U.S. cooperation on Thursday as President Joe Biden sent his chief coronavirus adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to repair damage from the Trump administration’s withdrawal.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called it “a good day for WHO, and a good day for public health” because of Biden’s brief message to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres that the United States will remain one of WHO’s 194 member nations and take part in the COVAX Facility to accelerate COVID-19 vaccines. Former President Trump announced  in May he would withdraw the United States from WHO.

“Thank you, my brother Tony, and welcome to the WHO executive board as head of delegation for the United States of America. Thank you, my friend, for your personal support for WHO over many years, and especially in the past year,” Tedros effused.

“We have benefited immensely from your participation as a member of our regular global health leaders calls, since the start of the pandemic,” he added. “And thank you for your incredible leadership against the pandemic in the United States.”

‘Science, solutions, solidarity and service’

Fauci, who directs the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told WHO’s executive board he was “honored” to announce Biden was “retracting” Trump’s withdrawal order and rejoining WHO and COVAX to help increase access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics worldwide. COVAX is co-led by WHO and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, along with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

“The United States also intends to fulfill its financial obligations to the organization,” he said. “The United States sees technical collaboration at all levels as a fundamental part of our relationship with WHO, one that we value deeply and will look to strengthen going forward.”

The United States, United Kingdom and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are WHO’s top backers. The United States has been contributing US$450 million a year — including US$118 million in mandatory dues — towards WHO’s more than US$4 billion budget, according to WHO budget figures.

Fauci also said Biden, as part of a “broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world,” will revoke the “Mexico City policy,” or global gag rule, that forced foreign NGOs to choose between performing abortions or receiving U.S. family planning aid. Since the 1980s, the controversial U.S. anti-abortion policy has been a political football that Republican presidents favor and Democratic presidents reject.

Tedros, in turn, reaffirmed WHO’s “continued commitment” to provide “science, solutions, solidarity and service” to the United States. “WHO is a family of nations,” Tedros said in his speech to the executive board. “And we are all glad that the United States is staying in the family.”

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