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How the US is helping the world fight Covid-19

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BY ROBERT SCOTT:

CRUCIAL – Covid-19 testing

The story of United States (US) leadership in the global battle against Covid-19 is a story of days, months and decades. Every day, new US technical and material assistance arrives in hospitals and labs around the world. These efforts, in turn, build on a decades-long foundation of American expertise, generosity and planning that is unmatched in history.

The US provides aid for altruistic reasons, because we believe it is the right thing to do. We also do it because pandemics do not respect national borders. If we can help countries contain outbreaks, we will save lives abroad and at home in the US.

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That generosity and pragmatism explains why the US was one of the first countries to help the Chinese people as soon as reports emerged from Wuhan of another outbreak. In early January, the US government offered immediate technical assistance to the Chinese Centres for Disease Control.

In the first week of February, the US transported nearly 18 tonnes of medical supplies to Wuhan provided by Samaritan’s Purse, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and others. We also pledged $100 million in assistance to countries to fight what would become a pandemic – including an offer to China, which was declined.

Our response now far surpasses that initial pledge. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the US government has committed nearly $500 million in assistance to date. This funding will improve public health education, protect healthcare facilities, and increase laboratory, disease-surveillance and rapid-response capacity in more than 60 of the world’s most-at-risk countries– all in an effort to help contain outbreaks before they reach our shores.

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Our aid helps people in the direst circumstances. For instance, the US government works with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to deliver medicines, medical supplies and food to the Syrian people, including those living in regime-held areas. We are helping United Nations agencies and NGOs build more water, sanitation and health facilities across northern Syria to prevent the spread of the virus. We are aiding friends from Africa to Asia and beyond.

America’s unsurpassed contributions are also felt through the many international organisations fighting Covid-19 on the frontlines.

The US has been the largest funder of the World Health Organisation since its founding in 1948. We gave more than $400 million to the institution in 2019 – nearly double the second-largest contribution and more than the next three contributors combined.

It is a similar story with the UN Refugee Agency, which the US backed with nearly $1.7 billion in 2019. That is more than all other member states combined and more than four times the second-largest contributor, Germany.

Then there is the World Food Program, to which the US gave $3.4 billion last year, or 42 percent of its total budget. That is nearly four times the second-largest contributor and more than all other member states combined. We also gave more than $700 million to the United Nations Children’s Fund, more than any other donor.

We are proud that when these international organisations deliver food, medicines and other aid all around the world, that too is largely thanks to the generosity of the American people, in partnership with donor nations.

Our country continues to be the single largest health and humanitarian donor for both long-term development and capacity building efforts with partners and emergency response efforts in the face of recurrent crises. This money has saved lives, protected people who are most vulnerable to disease, built health institutions and promoted the stability of communities and nations.

America funds nearly 40 percent of the world’s global health assistance programmes, adding up to $140 billion in investments in the past 20 years – five times more than the next largest donor. Since 2009, American taxpayers have generously funded more than $100 billion in health assistance and nearly $70 billion in humanitarian assistance globally.

One true expression of the American compassion and commitment to global health is the partnership and investment made to strengthen Malawi’s health sector and fight against HIV and Aids. Since 2004, the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) has provided over $1 billion to support Malawi’s HIV and Aids epidemic response. This has translated into over 800,000 people living with HIV accessing lifesaving antiretroviral treatment in addition to a strengthened health system.

The Malawi Government, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other stakeholders, is scaling up testing for Covid-19 nationally. This is being accomplished by leveraging HIV investments made by CDC, the Government of Malawi and other stakeholders in labs across the country.

Over the last few weeks, CDC Malawi has worked with the Ministry of Health (MoH) to rapidly enable Covid-19 testing in a lab in Lilongwe; developed a four-day training for lab staff in ten additional laboratories across the country; and continue to work alongside MoH colleagues to test samples.

Peter Mutharika

These efforts led ultimately to the announcement by President Peter Mutharika of the first three Covid-19 cases confirmed in Malawi. CDC with Pepfar funds has also placed orders for essential labs supplies to expand testing, will fund sample transportation for Covid-19 testing and will provide quality assurance for the MoH labs.

United States Agency for International Development (USAid) is mobilising emergency response activities in 16 districts through the Organised Network of Services for Everyone’s (ONSE) Health activity, USAid’s flagship programme for integrated health service delivery in Malawi. ONSE’s strong district footprint and engagement with the Ministry of Health and Population and other health sector partners enables the coordinated and rapid district-led response needed to contain the threat of Covid-19.

ONSE also supported the Ministry of Health to renovate an existing building at Kamuzu Central Hospital to be utilised during the response as an isolation and treatment centre. Other USAid support includes technical assistance to the Government of Malawi to count its inventory of medicine and personal protective equipment to better mobilise and plan efforts for the Covid-19 response.

USAid also oriented media representatives on Covid-19 to help ensure journalists are disseminating accurate and timely messages to the public and is working with the Government of Malawi to update and disseminate Covid-19 messaging. USAid awaits approval on a supplemental funding request to extend and continue these activities.

Our help is much more than money and supplies. It is the experts we have deployed worldwide, and those still conducting tutorials today via teleconference. It is the doctors and public-health professionals trained, thanks to US money and educational institutions. And it is the supply chains that we keep open and moving for US companies producing and distributing high-quality critical medical supplies around the world.

Of course, it is not just our government helping the world. American businesses, NGOs and faith-based organisations have given at least $1.5 billion to fight the pandemic overseas. American companies are innovating new technologies for vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and ventilators. This is American exceptionalism at its finest.

As we have time and time again, the US will aid others during their time of greatest need. The Covid-19 pandemic is no different. We will continue to help countries build resilient healthcare systems that can prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. Just as the US has made the world healthier, more peaceful and more prosperous for generations, so will we lead in defeating our shared pandemic enemy, and rising stronger in its wake.

*Robert Scott is US Ambassador to Malawi

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