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Public health expert hails President Biden’s move to re-engage with the World Health Organization

President Joe Biden speaks after being sworn in as the 46th President of the United StatesAssociated Press

A prominent New England public health expert on Wednesday hailed President Biden’s plan to re-engage with the World Health Organization, which is expected to be one of the first major official actions of his presidency.

“It is critically important if we want to end this global pandemic,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said in a tweet. “America is better off engaged with WHO.”

Biden, who was inaugurated at midday Wednesday, was expected to sign a raft of executive orders later in the day, moving quickly to unwind Donald Trump’s policies on mutiple fronts.

Trump in July sent a letter giving the UN health agency one year’s notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw, though it was not clear if the United States could withdraw without approval from Congress, The Washington Post reported. One of Biden’s executive orders Wednesday is expected to recommit the United States to the organization.

The COVID-19 plan on the Biden White House website pledges to “Immediately restore our relationship with the World Health Organization, which — while not perfect — is essential to coordinating a global response during a pandemic.”


Biden is dispatching the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to represent the US on Thursday at the WHO’s executive board meeting. The Biden administration also plans to opt into a multilateral effort to distribute vaccines around the world, the Post reported.

Emphasizing that we live in a “deeply interconnected — indeed, interdependent world,” Jha said that engaging in global health is not only “consistent with our moral values ... But U.S. engagement also benefits us.”

“Bringing the pandemic to an end saves lives across the world, including those of Americans,” he said.

Jha said reforms are needed at the WHO, but “walking away at this moment deeply hurt our moral standing, and made America weaker.”


He said he was “thrilled” to see Biden take the action, calling it a “critical first step.”

Biden’s transition team said in a statement that the new administration would “work with the WHO and our partners to strengthen and reform the organization, support the COVID-19 health and humanitarian response, and advance global health and health security.”

The director-general of WHO tweeted his congratulations to Biden on Wednesday.

Biden is also expected to sign several other executive orders relating to the deadly pandemic and the economic devastation it has caused.

One order is expected to require face coverings and physical distancing for everyone in federal buildings and on federal lands. At the same time, he’ll launch a “100 Day Masking Challenge” asking Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his administration.

Another order is expected to direct federal agencies to extend moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures until at least March 31. And another order is expected to pause the the accrual of interest and principal payments on federal student loans until Sept. 30.

Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.

Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.