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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 21, 2021

Biden sends letter to reverse Trump’s WHO withdrawal

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden took action to secure the United States' membership in the World Health Organization, one of many reversals from the Trump era. 

"The United States intends to remain a member of the World Health Organization," stated Biden's letter to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. "The WHO plays a crucial role in the world's fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic as well as countless other threats to global health and health security.  The United States will continue to be a full participant and a global leader in confronting such threats and advancing global health and health security."

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for Guterres, confirmed that the U.S. took the actions to remain a member of the WHO.

In April 2020, then-President Donald Trump announced that the United States would halt its financial support for the WHO. Trump linked his decision to the agency's relationship with China and its handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Technically the U.S. never completed the withdrawal process, which takes a year. Trump's State Department alerted the United Nations on July 6 that it would end its relationship with the WHO effective July 6, 2021. The United States has been a party to the WHO since it was founded in 1948. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser on COVID-19, told the WHO executive board Jan. 21 that he was honored to announce the U.S. will remain a member 

"All Biden has to do is inform the U.N. that he is rescinding notice of withdrawal," said Lawrence Gostin, a health law professor at Georgetown. "It's a simple matter, purely within his rights to do that without any judicial or congressional review."

Being a WHO member comes with financial obligations, which vary by country. In 2020, the dues for the U.S. were about $120 million, State Department officials said in September.

Back in April, when Trump announced his intention to leave the organization, the U.S. had paid $58 million to WHO. The remaining $62 million was slated to go to other U.N. health programs. Fauci said the U.S. would fulfill its financial obligations to the WHO.

Biden halted efforts to leave the WHO. That's enough to put this pledge at Promise Kept.

Our Sources

President Joe Biden, Letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Jan. 20, 2021

White House, Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Dr. Anthony Fauci at the World Health Organization Executive Board Meeting, Jan. 21, 2021

Biden-Harris transition, FACT SHEET: President-elect Biden's Day One Executive Actions Deliver Relief for Families Across America Amid Converging Crises, Jan. 20, 2021

United Nations Secretary General, Note to Correspondents in answer to questions regarding the World Health Organization, July 7, 2020

State Department, Update on U.S. Withdrawal from the World Health Organization, Sept. 3, 2020

Foreign Affairs, How to Keep the United States in the WHO, June 5, 2020

New York Times, Trump Administration Will Redirect $62 Million Owed to the W.H.O., Sept. 2, 2020

PolitiFact, Fact-checking Donald Trump's criticism of the World Health Organization, April 16, 2020

PolitiFact, Fact-checking Donald Trump's case against the World Health Organization, China, June 2, 2020

Email interview, Jennifer Kates, a senior vice president at Kaiser Family Foundation, Jan. 20, 2021

Telephone interview, Lawrence Gostin, professor, director, O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown School of Law, Jan. 20, 2021

Email interview, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Jan. 20 and 21, 2021

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