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United States stands firm on its commitment to help the world fight Covid-19
April 18, 2020

The story of 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 United States provides aid for altruistic reasons, because we believe it’s the right thing to do. We also do it because pandemics don’t respect national borders. If we can help countries contain outbreaks, we’ll save lives abroad and at home in the US.

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

In the first week of February the US transported nearly 18 tons of medical supplies to Wuhan provided by Samaritan’s Purse, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and others. We 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.

Our aid helps people in the most dire circumstances. For instance, the US government works with 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 nongovernmental organisations 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 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’s a similar story with the UN Refugee Agency, which the US backed with nearly $1.7 billion in 2019. That’s 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% of its total budget. That 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 (UNICEF), 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% of the world’s global health assistance programs, 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.

The US Mission to South Africa has been putting these funds and this expertise to maximum use here, working hand in hand with the South African government to limit the impacts of the virus in South Africa.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began its support to South Africa began in 1979 focusing on human rights through non-governmental organisations. Now, USAID, has committed $3.77 million from the Emergency Response Fund to support the Government of South Africa’s Covid-19 efforts through national and provincial surveillance and rapid response, risk communication and community engagement, and case management.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has been working in South Africa since 1989 assisting non-governmental and community-based organisation to address HIV, is providing technical assistance to the South African National Department of Health (NDoH) and National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), including daily involvement of technical and communications staff in helping to develop guidelines for risk communication, identification, isolation, testing, infection prevention and control and contact tracing for persons under investigation for Covid-19. On the frontline, CDC South Africa has deployed staff to the NICD to support data entry activities, as well as deploying staff to support NDoH and NICD efforts at the provincial level.

Through the US President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and its 17 years of experience in responding to the HIV epidemic in Africa, the United States is leveraging existing partners and resources to immediately support services in the context of the Covid-19 response. During this lock down, more than 5 000 PEPFAR supported community healthcare workers will integrate door-to-door Covid-19 screening and HIV adherence activities to allow for an immediate and coordinated response.

Our help is much more than money and supplies. It’s the experts we have deployed worldwide, and those still conducting tutorials today via teleconference. Its the doctors and public-health professionals trained, thanks to US money and educational institutions. And it’s 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 isn’t 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 United States will aid others during their time of greatest need. The Covid-19 pandemic is no different. We will continue to help countries build resilient health care systems that can prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. Just as the US has made the world more healthy, peaceful, and prosperous for generations, so will we lead in defeating our shared pandemic enemy, and rising stronger in its wake.

Lana Marks is the United States Ambassador to South Africa.

Credit: Published in News24 Guest Column, Friday, April 17, 2020