DR. KENNETH STALEY USAID GLOBAL MALARIA COORDINATOR AND COVID-19 TASK FORCE LEADER AND MR. CHRISTOPHER RUNYAN USAID SENIOR COORDINATOR FOR THE BUREAU FOR AFRICA
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Moderator: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion.
Today we are pleased to be joined by Dr. Kenneth Staley, U.S. Agency for International Development, Global Malaria Coordinator and leader of the USAID COVID-19 Task Force, and Mr. Christopher Runyan, USAID Senior Coordinator for the Bureau for Africa.
Our speakers will discuss USAID’s ongoing development priorities and COVID-19 assistance response in Africa. They are joining us from Washington, D.C.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Dr. Kenneth Staley and Mr. Christopher Runyan. Then we will turn to your questions.
As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record. And with that, I will turn to Dr. Kenneth Staley for his opening remarks. Dr. Staley.
**Dr. Staley: **Thanks very much, Ms. Scott, and thanks to all of you for joining us to discuss the United States global response to COVID-19 and how the United States Agency for International Development is working with the Department of State to provide assistance to countries throughout Africa.
Through the American people’s generosity and our government’s action, we continue to demonstrate global leadership in partnering with you across the continent of Africa in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To date, we have committed more than $1 billion to benefit the global COVID response and we want to assure everyone that we’ll continue to ensure that funding and scientific efforts on this front will remain a central and coordinated part of the USG’s response.
Since the outbreak began, the Department of State and USAID have provided almost $400 million throughout Africa, and that’s devoted to emergency health, humanitarian, economic, and development assistance specifically aimed at helping governments, international organizations, and NGOs fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
We know that the funding we’re providing will save lives, in partnership with the efforts of each of the countries on the continent, by improving public health education, protecting healthcare facilities, and increasing laboratory, disease surveillance, and rapid-response capacity.
With that, I’ll say thank you and turn to my colleague, Chris Runyan. Chris, over to you.
**Mr. Runyan: **Thank you, Ken. It’s a pleasure to speak with reporters from many of the partner countries that we have been working with in Africa. As many of you already know, long before COVID-19 appeared in your communities, the United States through USAID has shown our commitment to the African people. The relationship between America and Africa is strong and when it comes to the current COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. Government’s response builds on a foundation of decades of support across the continent.
The United States has committed more than $60 billion over the last 20 years to support public health on the African continent – by far the largest contribution by any donor nation. We’ve trained more than 285,000 healthcare workers and partnered with ministries of health, hospitals, and village health centers across the continent. In Fiscal Year 2019 alone, USAID and the Department of State provided $8.3 billion of assistance to 47 countries and eight regional programs in sub-Saharan Africa.
This provides us a unique and powerful set of relationships with African country governments, local civil society, and non-governmental organizations, and individual communities who have come to know us and our assistance. Our primary concerns in Africa now are responding to the disease, the food security issues and disruptions in access to food, economic and employment impacts in Africa, and concerns for democratic backsliding, and the loss of progress in other development sectors.
On health response, we may not yet have seen the potential height of an outbreak in sub-Saharan Africa. Weak health system capacity, urban density with poor sanitation, and other challenges make Africa particularly vulnerable to a large-scale outbreak. USAID’s assistance focuses on strengthening pandemic response through risk communication and public health messaging, prevention of infections in health facilities, laboratory capacity and disease surveillance, and many other areas. At the same time, USAID continues to build resilience in other health programs, such as treatment for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and maternal and childcare services.
On food security, we are increasingly concerned about access to food. Urban areas are of particular concern because of the instability issues a food-access crisis could provoke. There are also serious concerns for undernourishment, and many communities or regions in some countries in Africa were already facing food insecurity challenges. With more people losing their livelihoods, cash shortages, and some border closures and export bans affecting supply chains, there are real risks. We at USAID are adapting our programs and are smartly joining our humanitarian assistance food efforts with traditional development assistance.
On economic impacts, it is impossible to predict the potential full economic impacts on sub-Saharan Africa, but we know capital and other investment has slowed or reversed. Commodity prices remain low in key sectors that several African countries rely on for government revenue, and lockdowns or other restrictions heavily impact households reliant on daily wages. We are using the best available data to inform our decisions as a development agency.
On democratic backsliding and other development areas, we are concerned about some African regimes using COVID-19 to further restrict democratic space and constrain free media. Disturbing trends include the cancellation or postponement of elections, targeted crackdowns on key population groups, and increased gender-based and criminal violence. Additionally, violent extremists seek to take advantage of the pandemic to recruit and test weak African government capacity split from focusing on pandemic response.
Our efforts include focus on assistance to develop COVID-19 national action plans, effective policies for pandemic response, and enhancing government communications and accountability in social services. COVID-19 certainly has potentially broad impacts on poverty in Africa and USAID will do everything possible to mitigate lost development gains and to come out of COVID-19 ready to boost development again.
Our approach will continue to emphasize good governance, increased trade and investment, enhancing youth and women’s entrepreneurship, and increased security. African resilience is never to be underestimated, but also never taken for granted, and we know that all the creativity and commitment is still there.
Thank you very much. Back to you, Marissa.
**Moderator: **Thank you, Dr. Staley and Mr. Runyan. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please indicate if you would like to ask a question and then type in your name, location, and affiliation. We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to today’s topic and briefing: USAID’s ongoing development priorities in COVID-19 assistance in Africa.
Our first question will go to Katharine Houreld of Reuters in Kenya. She asks, “How has redirecting resources to COVID-19 affected the fight against malaria? Can you quantify this impact somehow?”
**Dr. Staley: **Marissa, thanks. And Katharine, thanks for that question.
Let me try to break my response down into three parts. I think the first important point here is that we, as the President’s Malaria Initiative and the United States Government and all of our partners, whether it be the Global Fund or the Gates Foundation or others, have focused with our country partners on actually ensuring that we continue our services on malaria. So that first point is really that we’re trying to ensure that all of our services are maintained during this time.
The second point I would make is actually that as with many other crises, the challenges we see are very similar. So first of all, we see effects with our supply chains. We need to spend more time and think more about how we can get active pharmaceutical ingredients, for example, all the way to making sure that our medicines can reach the last mile.
Then the third point in terms of quantifying impact, we’ve seen about a 25 to 30 percent increase in our costs across supply chains, delivery of care, and delivery of interventions in villages across the areas where we work. To put a price tag on it, our estimated increased costs at the moment are about $120 million.
The last thing I’ll mention is that I think the malaria community, globally, has worked very hard to think through how we can learn lessons from past experiences, like Ebola, to shift the way in which we deliver care during this time. And so I think the malaria coordinators in each country, as well as international partners, are going to great lengths to think through how we can adapt our delivery of care in the COVID-19 environment.
Marissa, back to you. Thanks.
**Moderator: **Thank you. Next, we’re going to go to our Q&A. The question is from Kevin Kelley, U.S./UN correspondent for Nation Media Group in Kenya, and based in New York City. “How much funding is the U.S. providing specifically for COVID testing in Africa? Do you agree that current testing levels are failing to reveal the true extent of the outbreak in sub-Saharan Africa?”
**Dr. Staley: **Thanks for that question. Well, let me try to – of those questions, let me try to actually answer it in two ways.
First, what I would say is I’ll need to come back to you with the specific amount that’s been spent on testing and reagents, but the broader point I think is that testing and surveillance is a critical part of disease response. And as you’ve seen really across the world as people have responded, there’s been a shortage of the ability to use rapid diagnostic tests in a fast way to diagnose the spread of the illness. I think as the world ramps up its production of these commodities, you’ll see a better and more effective way of monitoring the spread of the disease. So I think in essence, all of us want to be able to do better with comprehensive testing and treatment over time.
I think that from a USAID perspective and a United States Government perspective, we look at the infrastructure we’ve built in partnership with countries, whether that’s through PEPFAR or the President’s Malaria Initiative or our work on TB, that has existing laboratory infrastructure that will allow us to ramp testing very quickly once commodities are available.
**Moderator: **Thank you. Next, we’ll go to a live question from Anna Cara, the Associated Press. Operator, please open the line.
**Question: **Hi. Yes, thank you for this. What are the difficult questions you’ve faced from African officials in recent days as you try to assure them that the Trump administration cares about the wellbeing of black people anywhere, or about democratic backsliding? Thank you.
**Dr. Staley: **Well, I think U.S. values are a – are really universal values. And I think that we’ve tried throughout our time in relationship with countries across Africa to demonstrate the need for sustained focus on democracy and human rights. And within the United States, I think we continue to focus on that and think through the ways we can become an even more perfect union. And I think our own internal debates hopefully allow people to know that open and free expression are a critical part of building a better society.
Chris, let me turn to you to see if you have any additional comments.
**Mr. Runyan: **Thanks. I would just say the recent painful events here make it clear that in the United States there’s still, as with any democracy, a free democracy, still much progress to be made when it comes up to living to the promise of a just society for all Americans, particularly African Americans and people of color. And we’re all in this together and we’ll get through it together, and our nation will become a stronger one. Over.
**Moderator: **Thank you. I have a question from Gift Chapi [sic] from The Authority newspaper in Nigeria. “What support has been given to Nigeria, in particular in the area of fighting COVID-19?”
**Dr. Staley: **Thanks, Marissa. USAID is providing almost $38 million at the moment to help Nigeria respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. That assistance is focused across a number of different interventions from bolstering risk communication, to water and sanitation activities, to infection prevention and control, and emergency food assistance.
One of the, I think, more interesting partnerships that’s occurred in Nigeria is a partnership with Airtel to help Nigeria reach over a million citizens a day with critical information via both voice and text messages on social distancing, safe hygiene practices, and other preventative measures. I think that actually speaks to some of the more innovative ways that the digital revolution can actually help us in a health crisis like this, and I think probably as an example for other countries to look to when they look to find ways to accelerate their own preparedness and response.
I think another example from Nigeria – in early April we launched a campaign to share reliable information to assist state and local governments. We’ve trained hundreds of volunteers to go door to door across 10 local government areas and they have disseminated about 20,000 posters and mounted billboards to demonstrate how to stop the spread of COVID-19.
So as you can see across all the nations that are responding to COVID-19, information is really critical. Informed citizenry really are the basis of our response, and so the two examples I cited I think are great examples of the way Nigeria and the U.S. are partnering to try to help spread the word.
Chris, anything you’d like to add?
Mr. Runyan: Thanks, Ken. I would just put this in the context – the COVID response in the context that the assistance that Dr. Staley mentioned, joins more than $8.1 billion in assistance to Nigeria over the last 20 years, including $5.2 billion of that for health. So that’s been a big part of the response. And I would also note that many of our existing programs are also adjusting and accommodating COVID-related responses as part of their ongoing activities. So there’s a huge story there as well about our ongoing activities adjusting in order to derive benefits that will help in responding to the pandemic while also focusing on the sectoral areas that they were built originally to work in. Thanks.
**Moderator: **We have a question from Portugal from Elena Lentza of Lusa. “What is the USAID vision on Portuguese-speaking countries? Are there new projects for these countries, i.e., Angola, Cabo Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe?”
**Dr. Staley: **Well, Marissa, I think as with other efforts across the continent, I think Portuguese-speaking nations are a critical part of our efforts to help African people. So let me provide a couple of examples that are COVID-specific.
In Angola, we’ve provided about a half-million dollars to assist in limiting community transmissions, helping to identify patients early, and help to isolate them and provide care, and then finally, to communicate critical health information to the Angolan people.
In Mozambique, we’ve contributed about $7 million to date, and that assistance is focused on risk communication and community engagement, including mass media prevention messages. We’re also focused on water and sanitation, and the prevention of controlled infections in health facilities in Mozambique. Finally in Mozambique, we’re also helping to fund the training of healthcare workers in case management, and ensuring health facilities are prepared to respond to the outbreak.
Thinking about the – just taking off my COVID hat for a moment and putting on my malaria eradication hat, in both Angola and in Mozambique, we’re adapting the way in which we’re treating fever for malaria. And so Mr. Runyan earlier mentioned that we’re pivoting many of our programs; with malaria and HIV and other programs, we’re trying to find ways to safely and effectively treat existing conditions in this context, to ensure that there’s not an interruption of critical services.
Marissa, back to you.
**Moderator: **Thank you. We’re going to go to a live question from Zimbabwe, Pearl Matibe. Pearl, are you on the line?
**Question: **Can you hear me?
**Moderator: **Yes, we can.
**Question: **Okay. Good morning, and thank you very much for making yourselves available. I certainly appreciate your time. So while you’re on the subject of Mozambique, although, as you mentioned, the African people are resilient, Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado is particularly vulnerable due to two cyclones just a year ago, and the ongoing insurgency with an increase in attacks recently. As recent as today and yesterday, we’re seeing beheadings and bodies still being found. Also, WFP has closed its offices, yet there are in excess of fifteen – 150,000, possibly 200,000 IDPs. Can you spell out how USAID is navigating the insurgency/humanitarian/mercenary-aided counterterrorism nexus, specifically to the Cabo Delgado crisis? Thank you.
**Mr. Runyan: **I’m happy to take that one, Marissa, if you’d like.
Dr. Staley: Chris, please go ahead. I can add comments.
**Mr. Runyan: **Great. Thank you for the question. And you’re absolutely right that Mozambique, parts of Mozambique are facing extraordinary challenges right now. I can tell you on the issue of Cabo Delgado and the insurgency that our programming, the degree to which USAID is part of an interagency effort to support the Government of Mozambique in that response, is applying a lot of lessons learned from other violent extremist and conflict-related work that we’ve done on the continent.
So there are many lessons from our work in West Africa and the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and in other contexts that we can apply to support a smart and good government response, and we are engaging with the government as well as many other stakeholders and responders to that challenge at the community level and at the national level in order to work on that.
There is also, as you well cited, the issue of ensuring that our humanitarian responses and our contributions to global humanitarian response are there. And I know that that also is something that we continue to focus on and seek to ensure that Mozambique remains a stable, major contributing partner to economic development in the continent.
So I think those are the main points to really say. These are absolutely issues that are on our radar screen, and we are responding with multiple sectors of work in the development area to contribute to a whole response to those challenges that are compounding some of the fragility and instability that existed in northern Mozambique. Thank you.
**Moderator: **Thank you. Next we’ll go to East Africa, a question in our Q&A from Alex Atuhaire. “Some African states in the East African region have come up with different approaches in regards to the response to the pandemic. This has led to a regional miscoordination in terms of the response. How does this shape your – the U.S. Government’s – interventions?”
**Dr. Staley: **This is Ken. Let me come back to you with a more specific response. But I think across the globe as we think about the way in which we respond to disease, as we’ve all learned, diseases don’t respect orders. And so it’s critical for us to have transparency of health reporting and cooperation across borders, to discuss ways in which to mitigate the spread of disease. I think those principles apply whether it’s malaria or HIV or COVID-19. And in the case of this disease, we’ve seen with tragic consequences some of the challenges when there is not transparency.
Chris, if there’s anything you’d like to add, over to you.
**Mr. Runyan: **Yeah, thanks, Ken. I think there has been some very positive engagement, and of course we are trying to continue to encourage that at an African Union level, at a continental level, and the AU Commission is increasingly working these issues, and of course we have relationships with institutions like the Africa CDC, to help the African Center for Disease Control to help advance an integrated African response. And then I think there is another important aspect to your question, which is the sub-regional responses in the institutions that preexisted COVID, of course, which are mechanisms that we can use to support a regional response. So whether that’s the ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, or the East African communities, or SADC, or the other regional economic communities that make up the components of the African Union, we are engaging with them, such as the West African Health Organization, and others, in order to promote an integrated, cross-border response.
As you can imagine and as we learned, evidently with the Ebola response in West Africa in 2014, the disease doesn’t respect those borders, so we need flexible, regional, well-integrated institutions to work with in order to transcend those boundaries the way that the disease does. Thank you.
Back to you, Marissa.
**Moderator: **Thank you. We’re going to stay in East Africa, go to Ethiopia. From Mr. Tadele Abera Tafesse of the Ethiopia Broadcasting Service. “How do you see the responses from African nations so far regarding the coronavirus?”
**Dr. Staley: **This is Ken. I think in many ways we’ve been encouraged by the way in which governments have leaned forward to try to learn from the experiences of other nations as they have battled COVID-19. I think one of the challenges all of us have is that we don’t know as much about the disease as we would like to. And you can see in the weeks and months that COVID has spread around the world, the approach actually that many countries have taken has been slightly different, but the learnings that have come from all of that have actually shaped our approaches pretty dramatically.
So whether it’s thinking about the way in which we can protect some of our most vulnerable populations, to what kinds of commodities we’re thinking about to be able to provide immediately for relief, to how we’re thinking about planning for a future response that may involve a therapeutic, I’ve been encouraged actually by the collaboration across governments and through organizations like GAVI, and by collaboration with the Global Fund especially, who’s pivoted very quickly. I think I would only say that governments have an ability to continually learn and adapt, and I think that will be the hallmark of success as we move forward.
Chris, over to you for any additional comments.
**Mr. Runyan: **Thanks, Ken. I think I would just cite the fact that – and I’m sure many of you have been seeing these coming up – but there are a lot of trackers in dashboards and policy assessment tools that are out there. Most of them are global, some are Africa-specific. But we’re taking all of this in, different groups, whether it’s the U.S. Chamber of Commerce assessing the impact of economic policies by African countries on the potential for trade and investment, whether it’s the UN Economic Commission for Africa that’s done an interesting study and is tracking the lockdown policies or movement restrictions, and I think helping to encourage positive conversations between African states about trying to find the right mix of policies and the right types of responses in order to do the best they can to protect their populations and their livelihoods, while also safeguarding the urgency of a smart public health response.
So I think there are a lot of tools out there across different sectors of work, which I think are very valuable to our response. Another that I was looking at yesterday was the International Center For Not-for-Profit Law, which has one on civic freedoms during the times of COVID, and how have countries responded to civic and media freedoms during this period of time, and hopefully encouraging a conversation both with some of the regional institutions that Ken and I cited earlier, but also encouraging an intra-African discussion about finding the right types of policies, and encouraging peer countries to adopt policies that we know are smart. Thanks.
Over to you, Marissa.
**Moderator: **Thank you. Next we’ll go to the United States to Danielle Paquette of The Washington Post. Operator, please open the line. Danielle, you’re live to ask your question.
**Question: **Oh, sorry about that, everyone. Can you hear me?
**Question: **All right. Thank you, first of all, for having me this morning and having us on this line. I’d like to ask about the donation of ventilators from the United States to various African countries. I understand President Trump announced that a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to know where those ventilators are coming from precisely, and who is manufacturing them.
**Dr. Staley: **Thanks, Danielle. I appreciate that question. So I think on May 12th, the United States donated the first 50 of up to a thousand ventilators bound for South Africa. And we have a number of countries that we’re talking to across the continent about the provision of ventilators. We’re working within the U.S. Government and with these countries to prioritize worldwide how we can distribute the ventilators most effectively. I don’t actually have specifics on which African countries will be next. But what we’re trying to do is look at countries across the globe to receive the critical medical supplies.
In terms of the companies that are contributing ventilators, we’ve worked with, I believe, three different ventilator companies at this time, all of whom are working with the U.S. domestically as well to ensure that we have a substantial ventilator surplus in our strategic national stockpile going forward. And we can give you more information on the companies and the contact information for those folks offline.
**Moderator: **Thank you. Mr. Runyan, would you like to add anything to that? Okay, perfect. Next we’ll go to Kenya. Question from Reuben Kyama from Voice of America. “What’s your assessment of Africa’s health systems compared to other regions?”
**Dr. Staley: **Well, thanks, Reuben. I think if we look at the progress of the African health systems over the last 20 years, it’s been absolutely incredible. So childhood mortality has been reduced by almost 50 percent. At the same time, there’s been a 30 percent growth in population across the continent. Maternal-child health has improved dramatically. Treatment of HIV/AIDS has been revolutionized in Africa as well as around the world. And so I’ve – to me, it’s a really incredible story.
I think if you look at the health systems generally of most countries, they tend to improve as economic growth spurs development across multiple sectors. And so when I think about the ways in which the health system broadly will improve over time, I think it’s very much tied to the ability to have economic growth and dynamism in a society.
I think that when I think about the challenges that are going to occur as a result of this outbreak, I think about it in two ways. First, I think about it in the provision of existing services that may be disrupted. So just like in the United States where people have chronic conditions and maybe weren’t seeing docs as much, there are people who may not seek out a health facility when their child has a fever.
The second thing that I think about is actually the stress that’s being put on the system generally, so whether that’s a supply chain that’s being asked to try and deliver more medicines or more therapeutics at the same time that there may be less people available and less resources to do it. I see that – or whether it’s actually the amount of healthcare workers in a particular facility. So what I see is a need to ensure that there is not a setback as a result of this disease outbreak, to ensure that we continue to deliver the kind of care that we have in the past, and to adapt as necessary.
I think to make that happen, there are a couple of things I would emphasize. Earlier on I spoke about a novel effort in Nigeria to team up with Airtel. There are so many ways in which the new modes of communication can help us have better awareness of challenges, and respond more effectively, both for health and for supply chains. I think that’s critical. The second thing I would say is that I think in every country that we’ve seen respond to this, it’s been a whole-of-society approach, and so I think non-traditional means for thinking about supply chains or delivery of care in the home are worth considering.
Chris, anything you’d like to add?
Mr. Runyan: Yeah, thanks. I think for your question about health systems, I would also refer to the fact that as a development agency, USAID uses several analytical tools to assess health systems both at the regional, at the national, at the subnational, and often even at the community level. And health system capacity in Africa ranges from South Africa currently ranked 33 out of 100 in the Global Health Security Index, which is one of the indices that we use, to Somalia, which is currently struggling at sort of the last.
And I think that it’s important that we use different data sources to assess different aspects, whether it’s staff capacity, whether it is logistics, whether it is communications, whether it is clinic capabilities and supplies. So many of the things that Dr. Staley referenced I think are very important for how we assess an individual country or all the way down to a community, an individual healthcare center, their actual capacity to respond.
And I would also just sort of note that USAID-supported COVID-19 response programming is integrated and builds on our ongoing health activities to ensure an all-of-health approach and to mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on both the public health infrastructure and the healthcare delivery systems, both public and private systems, because we know that those preexisted, they will exist after this outbreak, and so they are the ones that we’re trying to help support flex and adjust to be able to surge to this pandemic response but not lose ground on all the other health efforts that need to be maintained that are not COVID-19 directly related.
Moderator: Thank you. Thank you. Next we’ll go to Flavia Nassaka, a reporter with the Uganda Radio Network. Ms. or Mr. Nassaka, are you on the line? Operator, open the line. Flavia? Okay, I’ll just ask the question that’s in our Q&A: “The COVID-19 pandemic has created fear that we could lose funding due to the fact that donors, too, have been hard-hit by the pandemic. What guarantees are there for continued funding and how much COVID funding has USAID allocated to Uganda to cover which areas?”
Dr. Staley: Thanks for that, Marissa. I think that over the last 20 years, the U.S. Government and the American people have demonstrated a commitment to global health that’s unparalleled really in human history. The transformation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic across the continent, the reduction in malaria deaths, and now, increasingly, the ability to treat TB cases – I think all are examples of American generosity and ability to help countries in their own path to improve health systems.
With regard to – and so all I – of course, there’s – so what I would say is that I think the American people remain committed to those same goals, now and we as a world come through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Uganda, we’ve given about $3.6 million to date for COVID-specific assistance, and about 1.3 of that is related to humanitarian assistance for refugees and host communities, some of the most vulnerable communities in the pandemic. The health assistance that we’re working on is working with the Ugandan Ministry of Health to increase prevention and control of infection, and case management in health facilities, including, especially, by training healthcare workers and new protocols for delivery of treatments.
We’re also thinking about management systems and ensuring access to health commodities and essential medicines and health supplies during this time. So that assistance that I mentioned, really, and this goes back to something Chris said, is based on the nearly $8 billion that the U.S. Government has invested in Uganda over the last 20 years, which includes almost $5 billion in investment for health.
Chris, anything you’d like to add?
Mr. Runyan: Thanks, Ken. The only thing I might add is you used the word “guarantees.” As I imagine you know, there are no guarantees for years and years of future funding, but, of course, there is a consistent support for Africa in our Congress, which plays the central role in creating legislation which funds USAID and its programs in Africa. And so I think there is a great consensus in the United States to support and continue foreign assistance relationships, partnerships, and progress between – that the United States and that USAID can contribute to in sub-Saharan Africa. So I am sure that there will be continued commitments and continued support for sub-Saharan Africa going forward. But, of course, we don’t know exactly what the future will bring with regards to resource levels, but we know that our response will be strong. Thanks.
Moderator: We have a question from Victoire Kado Dusabemungu of Rwanda, and his question is specifically related to Rwanda and what support USAID is giving Rwanda during this time of hardship. He also mentioned if you can talk about support for the media and making sure that they’re able to properly spread the word and counter misinformation about the disease.
Dr. Staley: Thanks, that’s a – that’s a great question. I think the investments in Rwanda build on almost $2.5 billion in assistance over the past 20 years, one and a half billion of which have been focused on health. We’ve to date used $2.2 million to assist Rwanda’s response to COVID-19. Most of that is focused on disease surveillance and case management. So I think that with regard to the way in which we are – we’re focused, again, in Rwanda – we’re building on systems that Rwanda itself has created as a very effective community health system. And I think that the way in which we are investing is meant to build on existing success.
Let me pivot to Chris as well to talk a little bit about the media effort.
Mr. Runyan: Thanks, Ken. I would just note that we are living in an era of increasing information pollution, and the spread of disinformation has intensified in the face of the pandemic, and we are aware of and tracking that closely together with other components of the U.S. Government. When social media spreads disinformation and responsible, independent media face economic hardship or repressive government control, citizens ultimately lose out. And that’s why USAID, as part of our response, is supporting efforts like fact-checking initiatives to debunk false and harmful disinformation, advanced media literacy – and there are several programs doing that in sub-Saharan Africa – and to expand investigative journalism worldwide.
So sub-Saharan Africa is absolutely a context where we are particularly concerned with disinformation and fake information and references to stories that have been completely concocted, with no facts, and we are trying to respond as part of our democracy, rights, and governance activities, which is one of the principal areas of support for USAID in sub-Saharan Africa, to adjust to face that challenge during the pandemic. And as you can imagine, it’s particularly reckless and harmful when untruths are circulated during a public health crisis. Thanks, Marissa.
Moderator: Thank you. We’ll take one last question, and this one will come from Samuel Getachew from The Reporter newspaper in Ethiopia. Mr. Getachew, are you on the line? Operator, open the line. Okay, I’ll go ahead and ask that question: “At the end, when the pandemic is over or at least under control, what do you think is the lasting legacy or learned experience there will be for African nations like Ethiopia who remain vulnerable to the virus pandemic? And what’s your [inaudible] prognosis for the future?”
Dr. Staley: Thanks, Marissa. I would say that there are two lessons, and I think they really are applicable to the world. First, from an Ethiopian perspective, the community health worker system that you’ve developed over the last 20 years has been truly remarkable and is a model for other nations across the continent. There are so many good-news stories about the way in which these community health workers have been able to revolutionize the delivery of care across Ethiopia, and I think they’ll continue to play an integral role in the response to COVID.
I think the lesson that the world should take and every nation should take, is that transparency in the face of public health crises is absolutely critical. Without transparency, people can’t help. Without transparency, we don’t know how to respond. And without transparency, people will ultimately lose their lives. And so I applaud efforts across the continent to try to be transparent with their health data and to try to share that broadly across borders and throughout the world.
Chris, let me turn to you for any other thoughts you have.
Mr. Runyan: Thanks, Ken. I think I couldn’t have said it better. I think issues of community inclusion, transparency, free media, and other things create the structural enablers for a smart, well-informed national government response for every country in Africa and every country globally, and certainly we will continue to support efforts that create that infrastructure for success. Thanks, Marissa.
Moderator: Wonderful. I want to thank all the attendees. I want to give this opportunity now for our speakers to give some parting remarks. Any final words? Let’s start with you, Mr. Runyan.
Mr. Runyan: Well, I would just say, I know this is a trying time for everyone, and we really appreciate the partnerships that we have across sectors here at USAID and with representatives of the media and journalists like yourselves, and we greatly appreciate a lot of the content that we’re able to see in media that help to inform our awareness of the challenges in Africa, the human stories, the community impacts, as well as what you learn about the private sector responses and certainly how government policy is formed. So we’re trying desperately to take all of that in to inform our judgments, and we really thank you, especially for your commitment and for the many journalists out there who are taking personal risks by getting out into the communities, hopefully following good, safe social distancing practices and using protective equipment, but gathering those stories so that we know what’s happening in Africa. Thanks very much.
Dr. Staley: Thanks, Chris. I think you’ve summed it up quite nicely. I’ll simply emphasize the inspiration that many of the partnerships we have across Africa have given us while working with you. I think the work that’s going on right now demonstrates the best of people in many cases. And as Chris said, the free flow of information and the transparency that’s engendered by a free press is critical for our response to continue effectively. Thanks very much.
Mr. Runyan: If I can add one other thing, Marissa, just that at a human level, we’ve seen some extraordinary stories, whether it’s some of the young people we work with on the Young African Leaders Initiative, called YALI, whether it’s these fascinating stories about the use of technology like drone delivery of medical testing and other equipment in Ghana, or whether it’s Uber drivers who don’t have enough work through their regular thing, but are able to become part of the food supply chain by selling vegetables in underserved communities. All of that creativity and innovation that inspires us every day I think is still there, and will continue to inspire us as we engage with sub-Saharan Africa. Thanks.
Moderator: Excellent. That concludes today’s briefing. I would like to thank Dr. Kenneth Staley, from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Global Malaria Coordinator and Leader of the USAID COVID-19 Task Force, and Mr. Christopher Runyan, USAID Senior Coordinator for the Bureau for Africa, for speaking to us today. And thanks to all of the journalists for participating. If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at [email protected] Thank you.
Source: US Agency for International Development