Biden administration to resume US engagement with WHO
Among several executive orders to be signed on his first day in office, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. pledged that the United States would split with the Trump administration and “re-engage” with WHO.
The order will “cease the previous administration’s process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization — an entity that is critical to coordinating the international response to COVID-19, advancing preparedness for future epidemics and pandemics, and improving the health of all people,” the Biden-Harris transition team said in a release.
Announced in July, the Trump administration’s plan to withdraw from WHO was criticized by experts as dangerous and counterproductive to efforts to fight the pandemic. Trump earlier cited WHO’s relationship with China and its criticism of the administration’s travel bans early in the pandemic as reasons to stop funding the agency.
The Biden-Harris team said that National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD, would lead a U.S. delegation that will participate in the WHO executive board meeting this week, and would be delivering remarks to that meeting on Jan. 21.
“The U.S. rejoining WHO and being able to voice and have influence on the organization, as well as being able to support some of its core missions is going to be better for this pandemic and the next potential pandemic,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, FIDSA, FACP, FACEP, senior scholar in the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Healio. “The only way that we're going to be ready for the next pandemic is going to be having a proactive approach. That includes engaging with partners around the country and internationally, and WHO is an important venue for that.”
The Biden-Harris administration said it will work with WHO to “strengthen and reform the organization, support the COVID-19 health and humanitarian response and advance global health and health security.”
“Reengaging WHO is critically important, and it is particularly important during a pandemic,” echoed Infectious Disease News Editorial Board Member Carlos del Rio, MD, distinguished professor of medicine and executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine. “There is no doubt many problems with WHO but the way to ‘fix it’ is by driving the change from inside — not by abandoning the most important U.N. agency working on health.”
Krutika Kuppalli, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division at the Medical University of South Carolina and a vice chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s Global Health Committee, said working with WHO can help “streamline decision-making to speed up decision-making processes” for crises.
She said the new administration should improve awareness of the benefits of U.S. contributions to WHO and how these contributions affect Americans.
“I think we should learn how damaging it is to our own relationships to have withdrawn from these global partnerships, and how important it is for us to all work together if we are going to contain these global threats and create a safer world,” Kuppalli told Healio.
The Biden administration also will launch a “100 days masking challenge” to encourage American citizens to wear a mask responsibly for 100 days.