Africa cheers as US returns to the World Health Organization


African countries say the US return to the World Health Organization is crucial for the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and other future infections.

On Wednesday, newly inaugurated President Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders among them halting Washington’s initial withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) as sanctioned by former President Donald Trump.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, said on Thursday that the US presence in WHO will provide crucial synergy against the pandemic.

“I am delighted that President Biden [has] made the return of the USA to the WHO one of his first decisions, including joining Covax,” Faki said referring to the global initiative of 69 developed countries that is meant to bring together governments and manufacturers to ensure produced Covid-19 vaccines reach everyone around the world.

“All countries, big and small, must work together in solidarity to ensure vaccine equity for everyone everywhere as part of our global response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Faki said.

The US has been a member of the UN’s global health organisation since 1948, rising to be the biggest donor of the organisation with an annual contribution of about $400 million. But Trump withdrew membership in July last year after accusing the organisation of lack of transparency especially on investigating China’s role in the spread of Covid-19.

The WHO says that between 2016 and 2017, the US funded it to the tune of $945.6 million. About 76 percent of this was voluntary funding which went to programmes such as health security, polio, primary health care and maternal child health, which are prevalent in Africa and other developing countries.

“[The] WHO is a family of nations. We are all glad that the United States of America is staying in the family,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who heads the World Health Organization.

“We must work together as one family to ensure all countries can start vaccinating health workers and other high-risk groups in the first 100 days of 2021. With your commitment, we are one step closer,” Ghebreyesus said during the WHO’s Executive Board Meeting on Thursday in which the US was represented by Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Biden’s return to the WHO was part of his pre-election pledge. He argued that the US would be safer in the organisation than outside of it.

As the formal withdrawal would have taken effect this year in July, the cancellation means the US need not apply to rejoin the organisation and will continue to be allowed immediate participation in WHO meetings.

In his inauguration speech on Wednesday, Biden also vowed to repair broken relations with allies, and push for common solutions.

“Here is my message to those beyond our borders: America has been tested and we have come out stronger for it.

“We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s. We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example,” Biden said in Washington in a ceremony televised globally.

Biden also cancelled US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a 2015 document reached by UN members to progressively adopt green energy. Trump had withdrawn in November 2019, citing the treaty’s potential to kill domestic industries and cause joblessness.

“Biden is at work to address the climate crisis and has taken steps to bring America back into the Paris Agreement,” tweeted Ted Price, the State Department Spokesperson, on Thursday.

“By rejoining the crucial [Paris] Agreement that we were instrumental in achieving, we’ll again lead the world in addressing the existential threat of climate change.”

A factsheet on the White House website said President Biden will “take swift action to tackle the climate emergency” by meeting the “demands of science, while empowering American workers and businesses to lead a clean energy revolution.”

Trump often ignored his own scientists, despite the fact that the US is the world’s biggest emitter of pollutants that contribute to global warming and climate change. The agreement is especially crucial for Africa because of the potential investments that may target conservation and green energy.