Fauci to lead US delegation at WHO as Biden pledges to restore ties

Dr Anthony Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, will lead a delegation at the WHO. (EPA/Patrick Semansky / POOL)

US President Joe Biden took immediate steps after being sworn into office on Wednesday to restore ties with the World Health Organization (WHO), with US’ top medical expert Dr Anthony Fauci sent to attend the global health body’s top-level meeting this week. 

Releasing details on a raft of “day one” executive actions, Biden’s transition team said the new administration will reverse outgoing President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the WHO and plans to work with the global health body to help strengthen it and bring about reforms.

The move comes as Biden pledged in his inauguration speech on Wednesday to repair America’s alliances and “engage with the world once again”.

Fauci will lead a US delegation at the WHO’s executive board meeting taking place this week at its headquarters in Geneva, and will deliver remarks on Thursday, according to a fact sheet issued on Wednesday ahead of the inauguration:

“Once the United States resumes its engagement with the WHO, the Biden-Harris Administration will work with the WHO and our partners to strengthen and reform the organisation, support the Covid-19 health and humanitarian response, and advance global health and health security.”

A spokesperson for the United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said that he welcomed the decision by the US to reengage with the WHO, adding that by joining it will also be supporting the Covax facility and help “give momentum to efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries”.

Trump formally began to pull out of the WHO in July last year after first signalling the move in May, sparking criticism in congress and the international community. He heavily criticised the Geneva-based organisation, accusing it of being under China’s control and for failing to hold Beijing to account over the pandemic. The US is the organisation’s biggest funder, contributing around $400m in 2019, or 15 per cent of its budget.

In the statement on Wednesday, Biden’s team stressed the WHO was “critical to coordinating the international response to Covid-19” and preparing for future epidemics and pandemics.

In another move that seeks to undo his predecessors' legacy, Biden said he would sign the instrument to rejoin the Paris Agreement and that it would be deposited at the United Nations on Wednesday, with the US officially becoming a Party again 30 days later.

Biden’s to-do list of executive actions, memoranda and directives to agencies will also see his new administration halt the construction of Trump’s border wall with Mexico, reverse an  immigration ban on citizens from some Muslim-majority countries, mandate mask-wearing on federal property and during inter-state travel, as well as a number of Covid-19 economic and financial relief measures.

“President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward. These actions are bold, begin the work of following through on President-elect Biden’s promises to the American people, and, importantly, fall within the constitutional role for the president.”