JOHANNESBURG - “No country is doing more” to help African nations fight coronavirus than the United States, said the top U.S. diplomat to Africa.
Although the U.S. has suspended contributions to the World Health Organization, Ambassador Tibor Nagy said the U.S. is playing a vital role in helping African nations fight the virus.
For 20 years, said Tibor Nagy, the U.S. 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.
Nagy, the assistant secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs, spoke by telephone Wednesday to journalists in Africa.
“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,” Nagy said. “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.”
But, one reporter asked, how does the U.S. square that with its recent announcement that it would suspend payments to the main global body fighting the virus?
The head of the World Health Organization has called the U.S. decision to halt funding “regrettable” and that critics said could cause preventable deaths around the world.
“We are undertaking in a 60- to 90- day evaluation of the World Health Organization's response during this COVID emergency,” Nagy said. “And as Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo himself has said, basically, he said, ‘you know, 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' ... We have been the long largest single funder of the WHO, it's our responsibility, the government, to look after the interests of the U.S. taxpayers who have been funding that to the tune of $400 to $500 million a year. So again, I would say that the correct term is not defunding. It is stopping funding during the evaluation process.”
He said he could not quantify what items — including ventilators — the U.S. 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 learn from HIV.”
Nagy said the U.S. 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.” Nagy said. “ … This is by no means a one way communication because we all have so much to learn from each other.”
Karim notes that Africa has no special traits or charms that will stop the virus from exploding across the continent. Ready or not, he says, it’s coming.