Fauci Praises WHO for 'Relentless' Pandemic Work on Anniversary of First U.S. Case

Amid praise for the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced the United States is rejoining the U.N. agency, including a renewed financial commitment.

In his first public address since taking over as Biden's chief medical adviser, Fauci credited the organization for its "relentless" work in fighting the coronavirus during a WHO executive board meeting Thursday. A stark departure from the stance of former President Donald Trump's administration, his comments came on the one-year anniversary of America's first case of the virus.

Fauci praised the WHO for rallying scientific communities to accelerate the development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; its regular press briefings; and for providing "vital supplies" to dozens of countries.

"I join my fellow representatives in thanking the World Health Organization for its role in leading the global public health response to this pandemic," Fauci said.

The infectious disease expert's compliments came after months of a tumultuous relationship between the U.S. and the WHO. As blame turned toward Trump for the virus's outbreak in America, he pointed the finger at the WHO and took issue with how it had handled the pandemic in its earliest stages. Trump also criticized the WHO for not being tough enough on China, and in April he said the U.S. would pull its funding if the organization didn't make specific changes.

Less than a month later, on May 29, Trump announced the U.S. was cutting ties with the WHO and taking away its funding.

"The world needs answers from China on the virus," Trump said. "The death and destruction caused by this is incalculable. We must have answers not only for us but for the rest of the world."

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Dr. Anthony Fauci before receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health on December 22, 2020, in Bethesda, Maryland. Fauci told the World Health Organization at an executive board meeting Thursday that the United States would resume its funding. Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty

On his first day in office, Biden retracted Trump's withdrawal from the organization, and Fauci told those at the executive meeting the U.S. "intends to fulfill its financial obligation" to the WHO. The vast majority of the agency's funding comes from member states, and in 2018 and 2019, U.S. contributions accounted for about 20 percent of the WHO's total budget.

The WHO's director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, thanked Biden for honoring his pledge to restore the membership of the U.S. and called it a "good day for WHO and a good day for global health." He noted the "vital role" the U.S. has played in global health and its "enormous contributions" to the health of people around the world.

America identified its first case of the virus on January 21, 2020, and in the past year more than 24 million people have tested positive, with over 400,000 deaths in the U.S. That is the highest number of reported cases and deaths of any country. Fauci acknowledged that the "devastating number" of cases around the world continues to grow.

Responding to the current pandemic and preparing for the possibility of a future health crisis will not be "easy," Fauci said. He noted that the world must learn what happened during those early days.

"We are 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 said. "The international investigation should be robust and clear, and we look forward to evaluating it."

Last week, an international team of experts arrived in Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have originated, with the goal of finding out how the pandemic began. However, experts told Newsweek they're not confident the team will be able to definitely answer that question because of the amount of time that's passed and the degree to which investigators have to rely on China.

However, knowing how the pandemic began can better help the world prepare for the future by guiding research and surveillance. Jon Andrus, a professor of global health at George Washington University, told Newsweek the next crisis is "already on the planet, but the pathogen has yet to make the jump."

Ghebreyesus, who has been a target of criticism from WHO member states, acknowledged there is a "lot of work to do and lessons to learn" to both end the pandemic and meet the "long list" of global health challenges. But, he said, "the world will be better able to meet them" with the U.S. on board.