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Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews David Miliband

The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and a former U.K. foreign secretary. 

Some excerpts from the video are below:

On what’s happening to displaced persons and refugees in this time of COVID-19

DAVID MILIBAND: It's completely understandable that people in America are focused on the crisis in their own communities. But if you think it's tough to fight COVID in a country where there is a health system, where there are proper sanitary facilities, just imagine what it's like in densely populated refugee camps. Imagine what it's like for people fleeing the war inside Syria in the northwest of the country. Imagine what it's like for the million Rohingya Muslims who being chased out of Myanmar. Those are the places where we're working. And the imperatives that we know here — washing your hands, keeping distance, getting testing going — are many times more difficult, and it seems to me absolutely vital that we have a local perspective on this crisis in the U.S., but also a global perspective. Because the truth is none of us will be fully able to return to normal until we beat this disease worldwide. Not just locally. 

 

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Clemons: How do you deal with things like washing hands, maintaining distance ... those are opportunities of privileged people? What do you do when you're not privileged? And you have to maintain some of these hygienic standards to keep the virus from spreading? 

MILIBAND: I think the truth is that you rely on local innovation. You rely hand-washing stations that are communal but nonetheless accessible for the 3 billion people around the world who have no safe hand-washing facilities in their own home. You establish testing that isn't based on something very high tech. You just take people's fever again and again and you try and triage people. You also have to take on fake news. There's a lot of fake news in the places where we work. I'm on the phone to our teams on the zoom calls to our teams, whether in Bangladesh, in northeast Nigeria, in Cameroon, all across the Middle East, and we have to make sure that information gets through to trusted parties. That's why off our 30,000 staff, International Rescue Committee staff around the world — we hire locally. And what I would plead with people is don't imagine that it's impossible to protect people around the world. It is possible if we take the right preventative steps. Once it gets to them relying on a ventilator, honestly, we've lost. I mean, there's three ventilators in the whole of the Central African Republic. There's 14 ventilators in the whole of Sierra Leone. It’s the basic prevention and primary care that gives people the chance to survive. 

 

On Southern Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Venezuela

MILIBAND: We've just had the first report of a COVID case in Yemen, and that is a country of 25 million people, 18 million of them dependent on humanitarian aid, the health system decimated for half of the population by bombings of hospitals and by the fighting. What we obviously fear is that this disease runs rampant across the country. It runs rampant and creates real carnage in the population. The report that you referred to highlights a double challenge. There's the challenge of the disease itself. And then there is the collateral damage to economy and society. Our message is simple. Surely the lesson of this disease is that we have to recognize the need to strengthen the global safety net, not just the local safety net, because that's how the disease runs rampant around the world. 

 

Clemons: [As part of this series] I interviewed Mark Dybul, who had served as President Bush's global AIDS czar are and oversaw implementation of PEPFAR in Africa. He made the comment that if we don't invest in health infrastructure and protective gear and ventilators, etc., in the lesser developed part of the world ... [the virus] will come back. 

MILIBAND: Yes, I think it's very important that we don't just say, have a big heart, help these people. But of course, there are people who need our help locally. We've also got to say, have a clear head. Recognize that if we don't go to this disease and its potential hot spots and tackle them, where they are, then the disease will end up coming back. It'll come to us through trips, through transport systems. It'll come to us through airports, will come to us through people movement. There will be no return to normality until this disease is tackled everywhere. There is no future in what a Yuval Harari rightly called a network of fortresses. If the world does become a network of fortresses, it isn't going to be the world as we know it, and as we enjoy it and as we benefit from it. And so I think we have to make a strategic hardheaded analysis in the call for universal health care and that call for the universal defeat of this disease, as well as the moral case that there are people who are otherwise will die if we don't get them our help. 

 

 

On which nations are getting it right

MILIBAND: I think obviously one looks at Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan as three countries that were in the first line of fire. But I think it's also very striking to see what's happening in Germany. Also, to some extent, in Austria, in New Zealand. It's not true that the democracies are failing and the autocracies of succeeding. What is true is that some democracies are getting it right and some wrong. Some autocracies are getting it right, and some are getting it wrong. ... I’m very concerned, obviously, about the U.S. — where I live — and the U.K. where I'm a citizen. But I think there are examples in the democratic world that show what is possible. ... We know this from our treatment of Ebola. We're going to be marking this weekend, seemingly, the end of the current Ebola crisis in Congo. What we know above all is that "trust" is the most precious asset, and my learning here is that there are democracies that have got the trust right between government and citizens. They've used scientific advice. We've got to make sure that that is learned out of this crisis. 

 

On the U.N.'s call for a $2 billion emergency fund to help those struggling with the coronavirus

MILIBAND: Yes, I'm afraid that the U.N. has been so attacked in recent years, including here in the U.S., that I’m afraid there was a modesty about that [number]. It sounded like a big number to many people, but when you think about the $2 trillion aid package just for the U.S., when you think about a World Health Organization appeal for global preventative activity, and it's $2 billion — and when you add to that that only $100 million is designated for the NGOs who have the front-line workers, you realize that we have to be more ambitious, and we have to be more front footed about where the money is going to go and how it's going to get there. The International Rescue Committee, on its own, has a $30 million appeal to use this window of opportunity over the next eight weeks to do the preventative work for which there is still time. The hand-washing, the triaging, the fever testing, the combating of fake news. We've got a small number of weeks to do that vital preventative work before health systems in poor parts of the world get overwhelmed. And that's what we're calling for. 

 

 

Clemons: What do you need? What does the International Rescue Committee need that it doesn't have today to move the needle on this coronavirus challenge?

MILIBAND: Thanks. I think there's a couple of things that are really important. I'm British, so I hate talking about money. But I've lived in New York for six years, so I'm no longer embarrassed about saying go to the International Rescue Committee website, Rescue.org — and see the impact that we're having and know that your dollar, your $10, $100, your $1,000 or in some cases I hope much more than that can really make a difference. And send a message that the heart of America still beats in its morality as well as its strategic judgment. I think the second thing, though, is really important. The most important thing from this crisis is that we learn the right lessons once we've had the chance to beat it. Learning the right lesson is that this is a disease of the connected world, and the connected world is not going away. So we have to fill and fix the holes in the safety net of that connected world. Until we make the world more secure and sustainable, we're not going to be able to benefit from its huge promise. And I think that the biggest lesson here is that we have to take seriously the rhetoric that says every human being needs a floor on their activity. If they haven't got universal health care, if they haven't got the universal access to hand-washing, then we're all at risk. I think that's a very big lesson. But it has to be the learning that comes out of this crisis — as big as the learning that came out of the Great Depression 100 years ago.