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COVID-19 — ‘America first’ policy may mean more Americans sick

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Americans are finally starting to understand how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Social distancing, washing of hands, working from home and self-quarantining all slow the spread of COVID-19 and will contribute to an eventual return to normality for Americans.  

This would be great news if the U.S. existed in a vacuum, but it doesn’t. 

America’s new “normal” of social distancing is physically impossible in the slums of India where people live cheek-to-cheek, and in some places there is only one toilet for 1,440 people. Continuous washing of hands will not be possible for the 925,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees living in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, where the dry season continues and water is scarce. 

While many Americans can work from home, new data suggests that half of all jobs across Africa could be lost due to COVID-19. 

The vulnerable people of the world cannot use the same tactics Americans have used to “flatten the curve.” They will bear the full brunt of the pandemic, most acutely in slums and refugee camps.

Both foreign policy watchers and the development community have been warning the American government about the ramifications of the global spread of COVID-19. Still, the argument has been a difficult sell when as of today, April 8, over 13,829 Americans have died of the virus and 404,352 more have contracted it. 

America needs to step back and understand that we may soon flatten the curve and resume our regular lives. But as we emerge, developing countries will be at the peak of the pandemic — with deaths in numbers that are hard to imagine in poorer nations. No flight restrictions, border wall or screening measures will prevent the virus from boomeranging back to the U.S. 

Defeating COVID-19 only in America will remain a short-lived success if the disease is not defeated globally.

To stop the coronavirus pandemic, America must take a global approach — the long-term safety and health of our country are dependent on it. 

The recently passed CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus package to combat the pandemic, provided $1.15 billion — one-twentieth of a percent of the total package — for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department for combating the virus overseas. This money will cushion the impact of the coronavirus for people living in developing countries around the world. 

While Congress discusses more legislation to combat COVID-19, they must support our allies in defeating the pandemic and take into account the life-saving measures that need to be implemented around the world. Providing additional funding to USAID will ensure people on the frontline have the resources they need to slow the spread and care for those who have contracted the pathogen and help local governments prepare for the rise of sick citizens and the economic shock to their communities. 

The United Nations is requesting $2 billion from all donors to battle the pandemic in partnership with NGOs in 53 of the world’s most fragile countries. America must do its part in meeting this request. This money will protect heroic doctors and health care workers putting their lives on the line and help them detect, treat, and contain the spread of COVID-19. 

We know the world is catching COVID-19. We will either beat it everywhere or nowhere. Americans rightly look forward to the day when we can open the economy. But, our health and livelihoods depend on reopening the world. 

It is understandable that many Americans are firstly concerned for their own communities and keeping their loved ones safe. It is difficult in these circumstances to think about the millions of people who live in other countries. However, if we have learned anything over the past three months, it is how something from the other side of the world, in a place few have heard of, can quickly affect us in our own backyard.  

Taking an America-first approach is a dangerous betrayal to the American people and the millions around the globe who will die if we don’t help stop the virus.  

Sam Worthington is the CEO of InterAction, the largest U.S. alliance of international nongovernmental organizations focused on helping vulnerable people around the world.

Tags America first Coronavirus COVID-19 COVID19 Low-Income NGO Pandemic refugee camps Stimulus Package USAID vulnerable populations

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