Pandemic forces halt to US-SA initiatives: Ambassador Marks interview with Pretoria News

Pretoria News |11 May 2020| Liam Ngobeni

THE COVID-19 pandemic has halted several initiatives – from extensive educational programmes to investment summits earmarked to empower South Africa.

US ambassador to South Africa Lana Marks said the pandemic had halted programmes they had planned to roll out and others such as the Peace Corps.

Marks said the US and South Africa had a long and extensive relationship in terms of education aimed at sharing skills and knowledge and eliminating cultural barriers.

“We have a student exchange, agricultural and postgraduate programmes. The interfacing was amazing with many programmes in every single area across the board.”

She said the outbreak delayed the progress, but they were looking forward to resuming the programmes.

“It was heart-warming to see the responses. In the past two weeks, R120 billion has been donated by US companies operating in South Africa.”

The US government has also committed additional funds to support South Africa’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. “This funding will support the South African government’s critical needs, including surveillance rapid response, case management and risk communication.”

She said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was providing technical assistance to South Africa’s Department of Health and National Institute for Communicable Diseases, focused on containing the spread of the virus and mitigating its impact.

These efforts include public health experts assisting partners in developing guidelines for risk communication, identification, isolation, testing and contact tracing for persons under investigation for Covid-19.

She said a virus shedding protocol was also being developed to estimate disease burden, risk factors and transmission dynamics, which would help inform public health protocols to stop transmission of the disease and save lives. “On the front line, America has deployed staff here to support data entry activities and support at the provincial level.”

She said in terms of accountability for funds donated the approach was to not hand over large amounts but rather to provide technical and medical support.

Marks commended South Africa’s swift response to the virus and said it was a Catch-22 situation in terms of reopening and risking a resurgence of the virus, it was also devastating to the economy and personal psyche of people. “No one was ready for this, there is no contingency plan, there are no easy solutions.

“Once things are under control globally and a vaccine is available, we are still under the unknown and we won’t have 100% right answers.”

Credit: Published in Pretoria News |11 May 2020| Liam Ngobeni