U.S., changing course, joins WHO programme aimed at boosting COVID-19 fight

Emma Farge and John Miller
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva

By Emma Farge and John Miller

GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.S. official told a World Health Organization meeting on Tuesday that Washington would join a programme to boost COVID-19 testing, diagnostics and vaccines as officials urged it to increase financing for a global response to the pandemic.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the announcement which follows confirmation last month that the United States under President Joe Biden will remain in the Geneva-based agency. Former President Donald Trump criticized the agency and halted funding.

"We want to underscore the commitment of the United States to multilateralism and our common cause to respond to this pandemic and improve global public health," Colin L. McIff, Acting Director at the Office of Global Affairs in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The virtual WHO Facilitation Council aims to help fill a $27 billion funding gap for the WHO-backed programme, called the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, that is aimed at broadening global access to COVID-19 fighting tools.

The United States had previously been an observer to ACT.

Washington, the top donor to the WHO, has already pledged $4 billion for the global pandemic response. WHO's Special Envoy for the ACT Accelerator, Andrew Witty, a former GlaxoSmithKline CEO, said talks on further U.S. contributions were ongoing.

A meeting document gave preliminary total estimates for how much major economies would be expected to give, showing between $6-$9 billion for the United States and about $2-$4 billion for Japan and Germany.

"There was general support for the burden-sharing framework," Dag Inge Ulstein, Norway's minister of international development who co-chaired the meeting, told Reuters.

"We got a really good response from the actors and the U.S. coming back has created momentum."

Tedros, at the same meeting, expressed fresh concerns about vaccine inequity, noting that 90% of countries rolling out COVID-19 vaccines were wealthy and that 75% of doses had been deployed to just 10 countries.

South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, the other co-chair, called these "alarming and disappointing numbers which we need to change".

(Reporting by John Miller, Michael Shields and Emma Farge; Editing by Nick Macfie)