Opinion Editorial By Eric Whitaker, U.S. Ambassador to Niger
Today, Niger finds itself embroiled in a global crisis not seen for generations, but the United States stands ready to support the fight against this pandemic. The story of U.S. leadership in the global battle against COVID-19 is a story of days, months, and decades. Every day, new U.S. 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 counties contain outbreaks, we’ll save lives abroad and at home in the United States. That generosity and pragmatism explains why the United States was one of the first countries to provide help to the Chinese people as soon as reports emerged from Wuhan of another outbreak of COVID-19. In early January, the U.S. government offered immediate technical assistance to the Chinese Centers for Disease Control. In the first week of February, the United States 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 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 U.S. government has committed nearly $500 million in assistance. 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 and slow, or halt, the spread of this disease. Our aid helps people in the most dire circumstances. For instance, the U.S. government works with non-governmental organizations 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 non-governmental organizations 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 organizations fighting COVID-19 on the frontlines. The U.S. has been the largest funder of the World Health Organization (WHO) 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 High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which the U.S. 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 (WFP), to which the U.S. gave $3.4 billion last year, or 42% of its total budget. That’s nearly four times the second-largest contributor and more than all other member states combined. We also provided more than $700 million to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than any other donor. We are proud that when these international organizations 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.
It’s also why in Niger, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) invests close to $200 million annually to promote good governance and improve agriculture and food security, health, and education. Since 2018, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, a $437 million, five-year partnership with Niger, has been working to improve lives through better irrigation practices and expanded market access, particularly in the nation’s interior. Over the past two years, this program has launched reforms that will improve access to water for crop and livestock production and access to important farming inputs such as fertilizer and veterinary services that will have a positive impact on the livelihoods of rural Nigeriens. The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), with an $18 million annual budget, invests in preventing malaria in Niger through system strengthening, bed net distribution, preventive treatment during pregnancy, training of community health workers to treat fever, and seasonal malaria prophylaxis provision. Through the Department of Defense and Department of State, we partner on flagship security-enhancing programs for aviation capacity building, advancements in logistics and maintenance practices, training and professionalizing the Nigerien Armed Forces, and enhancing police and law enforcement practices. Also, we have requested nearly $2.8 million for Niger in health and humanitarian assistance for risk communication, infection prevention and control, and coordination to help fight COVID-19 and the Department of State has awarded $1.19 million to UNHCR to help fight pandemic diseases in vulnerable populations including refugees. This assistance comes on top of more than $2 billion in total U.S. assistance for Niger in the past 20 years, nearly $233 million in health assistance alone.
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. It’s the doctors and public health professionals trained, thanks to U.S. money and educational institutions. And it’s the supply chains that we keep open and moving for U.S. 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, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and faith-based organizations 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 United States 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.