COVID-19: Where’s the global response from Washington?
The logic is simple enough: a global pandemic needs a global response. But so far, Washington has failed to deliver on its role in the world. First the Administration put a dangerous freeze on funding for the World Health Organization. Now the latest $3 trillion package passed by the House has zero international pandemic funding, and the Senate has put its next bill on hold.
The pandemic has caused near universal disruption, but it’s the communities already pushed to the margins that now face the greatest risks, both in the U.S. and globally.
The latest poll shows that an overwhelming 96% of voters – across party lines – think it’s important for the U.S. to work with other countries to respond to the pandemic. And for decades, Congress has come together in a bipartisan way on global health, supporting countries and communities around the world facing poverty.
The U.S. annually spends about $40 billion on foreign aid. Yet so far Congress has only allocated about $2 billion to fight the worst pandemic in a century. Even less than that has actually been spent.
On May 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its latest proposal, H.R. 6800, the HEROES Act, to stave off a collapse of the American economy. The bill contains vital investments to help people, communities, and businesses weather the next few months of this crisis – but not one dollar to fund the fight against COVID-19 outside the U.S.
It now falls to the Senate to invest the resources needed to match the scale of the global emergency. In the final version of the next COVID-19 response bill, Congress must include at least $12 billion to battle the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 internationally.
What the world is facing
The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact is unlike anything we’ve seen in a century. Continuing lock downs and stretched health care systems multiply the devastation well beyond even the people getting sick from the virus. The global modeling paints a grave picture of the pandemic’s consequences, and it’s even graver for those already facing poverty:
- Disrupted vaccine campaigns are leaving at least 80 million more children at risk for preventable diseases. The 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak provides a glimpse of the potential impact: after 1 million children were denied the lifesaving measles vaccine, 16,000 children died from the disease in just three countries.
- An additional 1.4 million people could die from tuberculosis, which was already the world’s biggest infectious killer. In India, notification of new TB cases plummeted by 80 percent when national lock down measures went into effect this year, with people who are sick left to fend for themselves.
- The number of people facing hunger could double to 265 million by the end of the year, the number of additional maternal and child deaths could exceed 1 million, and the number of malaria and HIV/AIDS related deaths will dramatically increase, erasing years of progress against these preventable killers.
- Because of the pandemic, 9 out of 10 of the world’s children are affected by school closures. In a move to remote learning, kids from the lowest-income families and marginalized communities are the most likely to be left behind.
Behind the grim global estimates lie huge variation, but there is no boundary, no country, no economy that has not been turned upside-down by the virus.
From community health workers to food preparers, millions have stood up in the face of this danger to ensure that their fellow human beings are taken care of. The same goes for many government leaders, with some countries taking extraordinary measures to mitigate the damage caused by COVID-19.
Many communities are already drawing on deep expertise and well-established systems for fighting infectious diseases like Ebola, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB. Countries with strong community health worker networks like Ethiopia, South Africa, and Rwanda are deploying those teams against COVID-19. And while the United States was slow to respond, many lower-income countries sprang into action far more quickly relative to their first cases. The irony is that some of the problems plaguing some wealthier countries, like lack of testing and contact tracing, are strategies many lower-income countries know well.
But with fewer financial resources come fewer choices. International donors have a role to play backing up communities and countries facing poverty. The United States must do its part as the world’s wealthiest country and biggest economy.
The U.S. Role
In negotiations between the House and Senate on the next pandemic response bill, lawmakers must fill the hole left by the House when they excluded any funding to address the impacts of the virus outside the U.S.
In addition to health and education programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development and Department of State, the U.S. government has been a key funder of international partnerships like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. These two partnerships alone have already supported dozens of countries with hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments. The U.S. must help make sure that work can continue.
RESULTS is requesting that in the next COVID-19 response bill, Congress allocate at least $12 billion for the global response, including:
- $4 billion over the next two years for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
- Significant supplemental funding for Gavi, to invest in access to vaccines globally
- $2 billion to protect the most vulnerable children through nutrition initiatives
We are at a crossroads in this crisis. As a country, we can choose to think short-sighted and small, ignoring the rest of the world. Or we can step forward – heeding the call of voters, world leaders, and members of Congress past and present on both sides of the aisle – by investing in the global response. Congress should quickly pass legislation that includes no less than $12 billion to fight COVID-19 around the world.
Colin Puzo Smith
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