The United States’ top medical official said on Thursday that the US will now join the World Health Organization’s global initiative to help poorer nations overcome COVID-19, in addition to a raft of new measures in support of access to universal healthcare, such as abortion services.
Addressing the WHO’s Executive Board Meeting, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to the new US President, said that Mr. Biden intended to issue a directive within hours so that the country can become part of the COVAX platform to advance multilateral efforts to distribute coronavirus vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
Speaking one year ago “to the day” since the United States confirmed its first case of COVID-19 infection, Dr. Fauci noted that global infections had now surpassed 90 million.
This was a “devastating number that continues to grow”, he said, while paying tribute to the scientists, public health officials and frontline healthcare workers, and community health workers who had worked “heroically” to fight the virus.
They had developed medical countermeasures “at truly phenomenal speed, adapting their responses as more is known about the virus, he said, “courageously treating the millions of people who have been stricken by this historic scourge”.
‘Committed to transparency’
Dr. Fauci noted that responding to COVID-19 and “rebuilding global health and advancing health security” worldwide, “will not be easy.”
He said the US was “committed to transparency, including those events surrounding the early days of the pandemic. It is imperative that we learn and build upon important lessons about how future pandemic events can be averted”, he added. “The international investigation should be robust and clear, and we look forward to evaluating it”.
Global health gains
Addressing the WHO executive, Dr. Fauci also announced US plans to work with other countries “to counter the erosion of major gains in global health”, specifying HIV/AIDS, food security, malaria and epidemic preparedness.
“It will be our policy to support women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in the United States, as well as globally”, the US official added.
In reference to existing US federal policy which blocks funding for organizations that provide counselling on abortion or related services, he explained that President Biden “will be revoking” it “in the coming days”, as part of his broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world.”
As a WHO member, the United States would also work “constructively…to strengthen and importantly reform the WHO”, Dr. Fauci said, helping to lead the collective effort to strengthen the international COVID-19 response and address its impacts on people, communities, and health systems everywhere.
A family of nations: WHO chief Tedros
Welcoming the US pledge to fully rejoin WHO, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he “looked forward to continuing this partnership, as I know all [WHO] Member States do.”
Tedros extended his best wishes to Dr. Fauci, President Biden, Vice President Harris, the new administration, and the American people “as you work together to save lives and bring the pandemic under control.”
“I assure you of WHO’s continued commitment to support you with science, solutions, solidarity and service” he said.
“WHO is a family of nations. And we are all glad that the United States is staying in the family”, Dr. Tedros added.
The head of US delegation, Dr. Fauci also announced that his country will cease the drawdown of US staff seconded to the WHO and will resume regular engagement of US Government personnel directly and through its WHO Collaborating Centres.
In addition, it intends to fulfil its financial obligations to the organization, he said.