February 2, 2022 | New York Post

Biden vowed to reform WHO from within — instead, it’s taking advantage of America

February 2, 2022 | New York Post

Biden vowed to reform WHO from within — instead, it’s taking advantage of America

The World Health Organization chief last week presented a proposal to raise mandatory dues on member states, expand his autonomy to spend a larger budget and make it more difficult for large donors like the United States to hold the agency accountable.

While Team Biden rightly opposes the plan, it must recognize its own culpability in what’s shaping up to be a diplomatic disaster — and change course before the consequences of giving away what leverage it had over WHO become even more serious.

Within hours of taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden sent a letter to the UN secretary-general declaring the United States would remain a WHO member and continue to be its largest donor.

He was reversing the Trump administration’s notice of withdrawal, which cited, among other things, WHO’s “alarming lack of independence” from Beijing, noting it “failed to independently investigate credible reports that conflicted directly with the Chinese government’s official accounts.”

Whereas President Donald Trump believed the only way to reform the World Health Organization was to use US funding and participation as leverage, Biden professed the opposite — that America could only achieve change by doubling down on its support and building backing for reforms from within.

“Once the United States resumes its engagement with the WHO, the Biden-Harris Administration will work with the WHO and our partners to strengthen and reform the organization,” read a White House fact sheet distributed on Inauguration Day.

But a year later, Biden has no reforms to showcase — nor has his administration put forward a plan to achieve any. Instead, the agency’s systemic problems — mismanagement, undue influence from Beijing and even anti-Semitism — continue unabated.

During the 2017 election for WHO director-general, allegations swirled that then-candidate Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had an unusually close relationship to Beijing and had covered up multiple cholera outbreaks as Ethiopia’s health minister. But Tedros had been the Obama administration’s preferred candidate, and having just come into office, the Trump administration failed to mobilize a diplomatic campaign to back his opponent, Great Britain’s David Nabarro.

Predictably, when China downplayed the emergence of a novel coronavirus that could spread across the globe, Tedros toed the Chinese Communist Party’s public line. When America later demanded an independent investigation into the virus’ origins, Tedros had already set conditions and parameters for the review that favored Beijing — making certain the agency’s investigation would be neither independent nor conclusive.

When the World Health Assembly met last May, China made sure Taiwan was excluded, despite international interest in learning from Taiwan’s unusually effective COVID-19 response. The body also paused to condemn Israel — as if castigating the Jewish state, a global leader in COVID-19 response, is time well spent during a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Replacing Tedros ought to be imperative, but shockingly, after he announced he would seek a second term, America and its closest allies decided not to field a candidate against him.

What did the Biden administration get for backing Tedros and pursuing reform from within? Just a slap in the face. On the eve of his official nomination last week as sole candidate, Tedros urged members to adopt a new funding plan that increases assessed contributions on all members and reduces the influence of its top historical donor, the United States.

More than 80% of WHO’s budget comes from voluntary contributions that donor states earmark for specific programs, limiting WHO’s discretion. The other 20% is assessed member-state fees with minimal strings attached. Tedros wants the mandatory fees to rise to 50% of the budget by 2028.

Effectively, the proposal would give Beijing-backed Tedros increased control over a larger pool of funds — as if he is the kind of reformer who can transform an inept and corrupt WHO into a powerhouse capable of preventing, mitigating and managing global health crises.

Congress should step in and insist that any increased US contributions come with structural reforms, improved transparency and related measures to prevent waste and weaken China’s influence. Start with legislation to prohibit any funding increase until there is an independent investigation into COVID-19’s origins and review of WHO’s actions at the pandemic’s start. Oversight hearings are also needed on the Biden administration’s plan to strengthen and reform WHO.

Biden already failed to oppose Tedros for re-election. If he fails to defeat the Tedros slush fund, too, this will be one of the biggest UN fleecings of American taxpayers in a generation.

Richard Goldberg is a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow. Follow them on Twitter @rich_goldberg and @NatSecAnthony. FDD is a nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Biodefense China COVID-19 International Organizations