The chief of the World Health Organization called on Congress to maintain its support for vaccine programs and other global health efforts as lawmakers prepared to skip town without offering any funding for President Biden‘s latest plan to combat the virus abroad.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised the U.S. for being the largest donor to COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing alliance, and said sustained help in addressing the virus, along with efforts to address the war in Ukraine and climate change, will benefit everyone.
“We continue to look to the U.S. for its support to end the pandemic globally and to address the many other challenges to health we face. Doing this is in the interest of the United States itself,” Mr. Tedros said at a joint press conference with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in Washington.
He said without the funding, the U.S. will also be unable to provide testing kits, oxygen supplies and antiviral treatments to struggling nations.
“The U.S. was the first country in the world to donate a significant amount of our own vaccine supply to the world,” Mr. Becerra said. “It’s in our national interest to vaccinate the rest of the world and protect against future variants.”
Senators recently struck a $10 billion deal to address domestic virus funding, though it is in limbo because of a spat over Mr. Biden’s decision to lift border-security measures designed to combat the virus. The bipartisan deal did not include any of the $5 billion that Mr. Biden requested for international virus aid.
“I still believe that Congress will take this seriously and there will be some outcome,” Mr. Tedros said, adding that Congress would set a good example for other countries by approving a $15 billion package. “I look forward to a good outcome. We hope the administration will get the support.”
Mr. Becerra said in the U.S., a health-provider relief fund is no longer accepting claims from health providers that provide COVID-19 treatments and testing. He also said the U.S. government might end up at the “back of the line” in the global market for groundbreaking treatments.
The secretary said the agency can spend some leftover money but the government won’t be able to stay ahead of the curve later this year. The U.S. remains wary of new variants and prepares for additional booster campaigns.
“Everybody’s got their role, we hope everyone will fulfill their responsibility,” Mr. Becerra said. “Failure is not an option here. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to lockdowns and watching their loved ones pass, [while] not being about to be with them when they are in their greatest need. We can’t go back to that.”
Mr. Biden marked World Health Day on Thursday with his plea to Congress. He said the U.S. has shipped more than 516 million COVID-19 vaccines to other countries and pledged another 700 million by the end of the year, but he would like to do more.
“We have to keep up the fight. More work lies ahead, and Congress must continue funding our fight against COVID-19, at home and abroad,” Mr. Biden said in a written statement.
Yet the WHO chief’s visit with high-level U.S. officials was a notable contrast to the prior administration.
Former President Donald Trump moved to sever U.S. ties with the WHO, saying it dropped the ball in recognizing the extent of the COVID-19 crisis in early 2020 and was too cozy with China. He said the U.S. should not have to fund an organization that was falling short.
Also Thursday, Mr. Becerra and Mr. Tedros condemned Russia’s attacks on health facilities, including maternity wards and children’s hospitals, in Ukraine.
The WHO chief said there have been 103 attacks on health care, with 73 people killed and 51 injured, including health workers and patients.
“We are outraged that attacks on health care are continuing,” Mr. Tedros said. “We crossed a grim milestone of more than 100 attacks.”
“There is no way we can proceed now, so that is on hold,” Mr. Tedros said.