President Joe Biden listens as he meets with Iraq's Prime...

President Joe Biden listens as he meets with Iraq's Prime Minister Shia al-Sudani in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, April 15, 2024, in Washington. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden's administration will help 50 countries identify and respond to infectious diseases, with the goal of preventing pandemics like the COVID-19 outbreak that suddenly halted normal life around the globe in 2020.

U.S. government officials will offer support in the countries, most of them located in Africa and Asia, to develop better testing, surveillance, communication and preparedness for such outbreaks in those countries.

The strategy will help “prevent, detect and effectively respond to biological threats wherever they emerge,” Biden said in a statement Tuesday.

The Global Health Security Strategy, the president said, aims to protect people worldwide and "will make the United States stronger, safer, and healthier than ever before at this critical moment.”

The announcement about the strategy comes as countries have struggled to meet a worldwide accord on responses to future pandemics. Four years after the coronavirus pandemic, prospects of a pandemic treaty signed by all 194 of the World Health Organization’s members are flailing.

Talks for the treaty are ongoing, with a final text expected to be agreed upon next month in Geneva. It’s meant to be a legally binding treaty that obliges countries to monitor pandemic threats and share scientific findings. But major disputes have emerged over vaccine equity and transferring the technology used to make vaccines.

Even if a deal is hammered out, there would be few consequences for countries that choose not to abide by the treaty.

President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with Iraq's Prime...

President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with Iraq's Prime Minister Shia al-Sudani in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, April 15, 2024, in Washington. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

The U.S. will push on with its global health strategy to prevent future pandemics, regardless of a pandemic treaty or not, a senior administration official told reporters on Monday.

Several U.S. government agencies — including the State Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health and Human Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID — will help countries refine their infectious disease response.

Health systems around the globe have been overwhelmed with COVID-19 and other health emergencies such as Ebola, malaria and mpox, the CDC said in a statement. The new strategy will help countries rebuild their agencies, the U.S. agency explained.

“Global health security is national security, and CDC is proud to contribute its expertise, investments and rapid response to protect the health and safety of the American people and the world,” Mandy Cohen, the CDC's director, said in a statement.

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Prime Minister...

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Prime Minister Petr Fiala of the Czech Republic in the Oval Office at the White House, Monday, April 15, 2024. Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Congo is one country where work has already begun. The U.S. government is helping Congo with its response to an mpox virus outbreak, including with immunizations. Mpox, a virus that's in the same family as the one that causes smallpox, creates painful skin lesions. The World Health Organization declared mpox a global emergency in 2022, and there have been more than 91,000 cases spanning across 100 countries to date.

The White House on Tuesday released a website with the names of the countries that are participating in the program. Biden officials are seeking to get 100 countries signed onto the program by the end of the year.

The U.S. has devoted billions of dollars, including money raised from private donations, to the effort. Biden, a Democrat, is asking for $1.2 billion for global health safety efforts in his yearly budget proposal to Congress.

Associated Press writer Maria Cheng in London contributed.

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