‘US is Africa’s best anti-Covid-19 ally’

08May 2020
The Guardian
‘US is Africa’s best anti-Covid-19 ally’

​​​​​​​No country is doing more to help African nations fight coronavirus than the United States, a top US diplomat to Africa has declared.

Ambassador Tibor Nagy.

Ambassador Tibor Nagy, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, made this assertion in a telephone interview on Wednesday with African journalists from Washington.

He said although the US has suspended contributions to the World Health Organisation, it is playing a vital role in helping African nations fight the virus.

He asserted that for 20 years the US has trained healthcare workers, helped African nations build their healthcare systems and more. 

And now, that work is being tested with a global pandemic that has killed more than 70,000 people in the United States – and so far, about 1,000 people in Africa, which has the lowest caseload of any of the WHO’s world regions, he further noted.

“We are by far the largest donor nation to Africa and our impact is felt across the board.… And now, in the fight against Covid-19, that commitment continues,” the top US diplomat noted.

“No other nation is doing more than we are. Of the more than $780 million the U.S. has pledged worldwide to fight the virus, close to $250 million dollars is geared towards Africa,” he pointed out.

He  referred to images of volunteers carrying sacks filled with food to distribute to vulnerable residents, during a lockdown by authorities in South Africa and elsewhere.

One reporter asked how the US squares that with its recent announcement that it would suspend payments to the main global body fighting the virus.

It is a move that the head of WHO has appealed to the US to reconsider, saying the U.S. decision to halt funding was regrettable, which a range of critics say it could cause preventable deaths around the world. 

Ambassador Nagy responded that the US was undertaking a 60- to 90- day evaluation of the WHO response during the Covid-19 emergency.

“And as Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo himself has said, basically, with respect to the WHO, we know they had one job, a single mission, to prevent the spread of the pandemic. So that did not happen. It was not the first time of failure,' he stated.

“ ...We have been the long largest single funder of the WHO. It's our responsibility as the US government to look after the interests of US taxpayers who have been funding that to the tune of $400m to $500m a year. So again, I would say that the correct term is not defunding. It is stopping funding during the evaluation process,” he told the journalists.

He said he could not quantify what items — including ventilators — the US has sent or plans to send to African nations.

In South Africa, the nation with the continent’s highest burden of cases, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a highly regarded HIV expert who chairs the government's advisory committee on Covid-19, says African nations that have weathered pandemics have a lot to share with the world. 

“I think the one thing we've really learnt a lot is about how to share information quickly,” Karim said. “And we have many ways in which we do that, through both official channels and unofficial channels ...

“So we do share our experiences and make available our expertise because most of us on the ministerial advisory committee are infectious diseases people, from HIV. And so we bring a lot of what we learned from HIV.”

Nagy said the US is listening intently to African experts. 

“We absolutely recognize expertise wherever it exists, and there are a number of African countries that have, thanks to the history of outbreaks, unfortunately, and having to deal with them, that have built up considerable expertise on dealing with a variety of pandemics. This is by no means a one way communication because we all have so much to learn from each other,” the State Department representative intoned.

Prof Karim notes that Africa has no special traits or charms that will stop the virus from exploding across the continent. “Ready or not it’s coming,” he don underlined.

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