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The U.S. Must Commit Robust Funding to the Global COVID-19 Response and Global Health Programs

To move collectively into an era free of COVID-19, or at least to a place where we are effectively managing it, is going to take a truly global effort. Every individual must do his or her part, communities must come together, and governments must bring the full weight of their resources.

Article by Crystal Cazier July 27, 2020 //   4 minute read
Inside the Right To Care AIDS clinic in 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The clinic, with funding by PEPFAR, provided medical treatment to more than 8000 patients that year. (Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

There is no debate that COVID-19 has changed our lives in a matter of months. The disease has swiftly made its way around the world at a breakneck pace. The five countries reporting the highest confirmed cases represent five different continents. It is infinitely clear by now that disease does not respect borders. To move collectively into an era free of COVID-19, or at least to a place where we are effectively managing it, is going to take a truly global effort. Every individual must do his or her part, communities must come together, and governments must bring the full weight of their resources.

Congress has a lot to consider as it determines the next round of relief. But in all the complication and uncertainty we face within our borders, Congress must understand that to protect Americans it behooves the U.S. to invest on a global level. Spending a little more now will save us a lot more in the future.

As cases continue to rise in our country and elsewhere, Congress should keep in mind that if the disease is not controlled everywhere, we will all live with COVID-19 and its fallout longer as it spreads around the world unabated. The longer the disease goes unchecked—either due to lack of personal responsibility, inadequate government responses, weak healthcare systems, or inequitable access to vaccine when we eventually have one—the time and resources we will need to commit to fighting it will also be extended.

The good news is that proven mechanisms already exist through which to channel resources. U.S. programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) are supporting partner countries to push back against the pandemic while quickly innovating to ensure people who depend on their programs for HIV care are served with minimal disruption. PEPFAR has invested in healthcare infrastructure, trained a large cadre of healthcare workers, and heighted public health practices to disease that are now being used for COVID-19. The Global Fund and Gavi are also well-positioned to play critical roles in therapeutic, diagnostic, and vaccine procurement and dissemination for COVID-19 while continuing to fulfill their mandates.

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As we consider how existing channels can be leveraged for COVID-19, Congress must recognize that we cannot afford to put our longstanding efforts in global health on the backburner. One disease does not take a break just because another one is hogging the spotlight. Analyses have already projected setbacks where we have been showing progress, including in HIV, TB, and malaria – diseases in which the U.S. has invested billions. Congress should dedicate funding now to protect this progress rather than risk a further backslide.

Should the U.S. relinquish its position as a leader in global health support, actors with more sinister objectives will fill the void. In fact, this is already happening. We cannot allow our reluctance to commit to global health to also be a pathway for a backsliding in basic democratic ideals abroad. Nor should we chance strains on diplomatic relations, potential trade agreements, or our standing in the world because we failed to support others during an unprecedented pandemic. The long-term blowback to the U.S. due to lack of leadership now will cost the U.S. and our partners around the world for a long time to come.

There is too much at stake, in lives and livelihoods. Congress must appreciate that for American lives, security, and reputation, committing significantly to the global COVID-19 response is not a nice-to-do, it is a necessity.