The story of US leadership in the global battle against Covid-19 is a story of days, months and decades. Every day, new US technical and material assistance arrives in hospitals and labs around the world. The efforts, in turn, build on a decades-long foundation of American expertise, generosity and planning that is unmatched in history.
Here in Kenya, over 50 years of support from the US for health providers and health systems has provided the foundation for Kenya’s ability to surveil, trace, test, and treat patients to combat Covid-19. With over Sh60 billion in annual support, the US is the largest international investor in Kenya’s health sector.
For more than 40 years the US government, through the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has supported Kenya’s Ministry of Health (MOH) to build workforce capacity and systems to prevent, detect and respond to disease threats including Covid-19. CDC helped develop and accredit the MOH National Influenza Centre Laboratory – the first lab in Kenya accredited to test for Covid-19.
CDC has provided over $380,000 in immediate support to Kenya MOH to respond to Covid-19, with an additional $1.1 million that will be available this month. CDC has over 40 Kenya-based technical experts in outbreak control, laboratory services, infection prevention/control, epidemiology, clinical management, emergency operations management, border health, and logistics who have been supporting the MOH in Covid-19 preparedness and response since January.
For 16 years, the US President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) has supported health infrastructure essential to responding to public health threats such as Covid-19. The US helps fund the salaries of over 30,000 medical providers across Kenya. For more than 50 years the US government, through the US Army Medical Research Directorate-Africa (known as the Walter Reed Project) has supported the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and the MoH to research and develop medical interventions to infectious diseases in Kenya, including Covid-19.
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Through the United States Defence Threat Reduction Agency, the US supports five sites that research pathogens threatening humans and livestock including the Isiolo County Referral Hospital where we recently provided Sh45 million for new lab equipment and a physical upgrade of the facilities. These labs are the reason Kenya is testing thousands for Covid-19 today.
For over 55 years, USAID has been Kenya’s partner to accelerate the journey to self-reliance through improvements in health, education, agriculture, economic development, water and sanitation, environment, ending violent extremism across the world, as well as providing over a billion shillings in food aid to Kenyans over the last 15 years to support vulnerable populations. New funding through USAID will provide Kenya $1 million in health assistance.
Our generosity and pragmatism explain why the US was one of the first countries to help to the Chinese people as soon as reports emerged from Wuhan of another outbreak. In early January, the US government offered immediate technical assistance to the Chinese Centers for Disease Control. In the first week of February, the US 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 the pandemic –including an offer to China, which was declined.
Our response now far surpasses that initial pledge. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the US government has committed nearly $500 million in assistance to date. America’s unsurpassed contributions are also felt through the many international organisations fighting Covid-19 on the frontlines. America funds nearly 40 per cent 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. The US has been the largest funder of the World Health Organisation since its founding in 1948. We gave over $400 million to the institution in 2019.
It’s a similar story with the UN Refugee Agency, which the US backed with nearly $1.7 billion in 2019. Then there is the World Food Program, to which the US gave $3.4 billion last year, or 42 per cent of its total budget. We also gave more than $700 million to UNICEF. 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 US money and educational institutions. And it’s the supply chains that we keep open and moving for US companies producing and distributing high-quality critical medical supplies around the world.
American businesses, NGOs, and faith-based organisations have given at least $1.5 billion to fight the pandemic overseas. American companies are innovating technologies for vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and ventilators. This is USA Marafiki, American exceptionalism at its finest. The US will aid others during their time of greatest need. Just as the US 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.
- The writer is US Ambassador to Kenya