By month’s end, the United States will pay off the arrears it owes to the World Health Organization as well as its current year obligations, the State Department announced Wednesday.
In remarks to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would provide more than $200 million “in assessed and current obligations to the WHO” as a “key step” toward complying with U.S. financial obligations as a member country.
In one of his first acts in office, President Joe Biden last month issued an executive order reversing former President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the United States from the WHO in a pique over the global health body’s relations with China.
“It reflects our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic, even as we work to reform it for the future,” Blinken said.
The United States is the largest funder of the WHO and its dues to the body in 2020 were assessed at 22 percent of the organization’s budget, or nearly $127 million. Typically, Washington also makes a large voluntary contribution to the health body over and above its mandatory contribution. U.S. annual voluntary contributions to the WHO averaged $254 million from fiscal 2012 through fiscal 2018, according to a 2020 Congressional Research Service report.
Last spring, when Trump announced he was freezing payments to the WHO on the grounds the U.N. agency hadn’t pressed China hard enough about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, the United States had already contributed $58 million of its assessed 2020 dues. Last fall, the State Department said it was reprogramming the rest of the 2020 WHO contribution or about $62 million to pay assessed dues to other parts of the United Nations.
Without ever specifically calling out China, Blinken said it was important that “all countries must make available all data from the earliest days of any outbreak.”
There is bipartisan agreement that the WHO was too willing, particularly in the earliest days of the COVID-19 outbreak, to accept Beijing’s assurances that it was handling the situation.
Some lawmakers and outside interest groups want to see the Biden administration use its re-engagement in the WHO to press for changes that would empower the United Nations agency to more forcefully demand timely access to information and data from member states about newly detected diseases.
In a January memo of its policy recommendations for the Biden administration, the anti-poverty ONE Campaign said the United States should use the goodwill engendered with the likes of Germany, France and the United Kingdom by its rejoining of the World Health Organization “to pursue reforms that give [the WHO] a stronger mandate, sharpened tools for accountability, and reliable funding."
Specifically, the group recommended that the administration support a preliminary package of reforms at the World Health Assembly in 2021 and then bring the issues to the U.N. Security Council to build support among major powers for the changes.
“Going forward, all countries should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies so the world learns as much as possible as soon as possible,” Blinken said. “Transparency, information sharing, access for international experts — these must be the hallmarks of our common approach to what is truly a global challenge.”