International Policy Digest

Tia Dufour
Health /01 Dec 2020
12.01.20

COVID-19: To Fight the Fire, Share the Hose

Morgues are filling up while schools sit empty. COVID-19 is spreading, infecting, and killing at an alarming rate, claiming the lives of 1.3 million globally, including over 277,000 Americans. The virus is threatening lives, disrupting global supply chains, and destabilizing entire regions.

Historically, the U.S. has been a leader in global health and foreign aid. Foreign aid enables developing countries to increase their healthcare infrastructure and capacities to treat and prevent the spread of infections. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, now is not the time to waver and retreat. Now is the time to demonstrate leadership. To fight COVID-19, the incoming Biden administration should prioritize an increase in foreign aid.

The current U.S. strategy of “America First” is not working. Isolation prevents collaboration, hinders research, and impedes resource sharing. Two-thirds of people in developing states are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their lack of healthcare capacities, equipment, and funding. Increasing foreign aid will help develop the partnerships necessary to ease the pandemic’s effects, increase resiliency to future crises, and thereby better protect not only global health but the health of the American people.

Currently, many developing states are redirecting resources allocated to the prevention of treatable diseases to fight COVID-19. Left underfunded, experts predict that the virus will continue to spread, mutate and reemerge across continents. States cannot isolate or combat the virus in a vacuum.

Untimely and insufficient foreign aid generates higher costs in the long run. Several countries are already on the brink of widespread famine, are economically and politically fragile, and are hosting large refugee populations in under-resourced camps. Adverse spinoff effects are mounting. COVID-19 costs come not only in increased infection cases, but heightened poverty, breakdowns in global supply chains, weakened governance, and increased conflict over resources. Increasing U.S. foreign aid to developing states will fortify states, mitigate the effects of COVID-19, averting additional development backslide.

U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration has been tumultuous. Our allies don’t know what to expect from us, and our adversaries are exploiting our vulnerability. We said that we would support our partners in the fight against COVID-19. Yet we have supplied far less than promised. It’s time to deliver. By increasing COVID-19 foreign aid, the U.S. can reaffirm its leadership and fortify our friends. It’s time to demonstrate that the U.S. can walk the walk.

Some question U.S. responsibility for the health of others. Many don’t believe that spending American money on global health is a fair use of funds when we have so many infections at home. President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously justified the Lend-Lease program to Britain, stating that he would gladly lend a garden hose if his neighbor’s house was on fire. Why? Because fire does not know property lines. Sooner or later, the fire will spread. So why give more foreign aid for COVID-19? Because our neighbor’s safety means our own safety.

The Biden administration cannot silo the U.S. COVID-19 response. The virus knows no borders. The new administration must work to repair U.S. leadership and prioritize fast foreign aid for COVID-19. This could be the most critical public health challenge of the century. How the U.S. responds will have immense health consequences and set a new precedent for partnership. In other words: to fight the fire, it’s time to share the hose.