US infectious-disease chief Anthony Fauci pledged his country's commitment to the World Health Organization, marking the first effort by the Biden administration to mend ties with an agency crucial to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Fauci said the US will join Covax, the 92-nation collaboration seeking to deploy COVID-19 vaccines around the world. While the Trump administration had given some $18 billion to vaccine and drug development through Operation Warp Speed, it declined to participate in Covax.
"I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization," Fauci told the Geneva-based WHO via a video link on Thursday. "The United States also intends to fulfill its financial obligations to the WHO."
Fauci's address, coming a day after Joe Biden was sworn in as president, initiates a campaign to re-engage with allies spurned by his predecessor. The United Nations agency was a frequent target of former President Donald Trump, who accused it of being lax on China and failing to provide accurate information about the virus.
Biden reversed Trump's decision to exit the WHO on his first day in office as the US death toll from COVID exceeded 400,000, higher than any other country.
The US has been the WHO's largest contributor, providing $400 million to $500 million in mandatory and voluntary contributions, and Trump's decision last year drew sharp criticism in Congress, as well as from allies in Europe. The WHO has been heavily involved in the fight against the coronavirus, especially in poor countries.
Fauci spoke at Thursday's session of a series of executive board meetings that began Monday. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus congratulated Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Twitter late Wednesday.
Once the US resumes its engagement with the WHO, the administration will work with the body to strengthen and reform the group, according to a fact sheet released by the Biden transition team earlier this week.
A review process of the WHO has begun, with an independent panel saying earlier this week that the body was underpowered to do the job expected of it during the pandemic. The report, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, criticized missteps by the WHO and countries including China. The panel's final report is due in May.