The immutability of math: WHO funding protects US in the end

The immutability of math: WHO funding protects US in the end
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Despite mass COVID-19 infections, economic collapse, and a two-month death toll more than three times the number of Americans killed during almost 19 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans have at least brushed up on their high school math. Millions are re-learning exponential growth, rates of acceleration, and mathematical modeling — not to mention balancing revenues and expenditures. The immutability of math presents a grand challenge — the need to flatten global infection for the remainder of the year while not incurring unsustainable national debt.

Emergent hotspots in conflict zones, among nations with fragile health systems, and with vulnerable populations around the world will likely ignite a second wave of COVID-19 in America. Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTrump: 'Fake News' not reporting 'big China Virus breakouts all over the World' Trump challenges Fauci over comments on coronavirus surges: 'Wrong!' Experts fear political pressure on COVID-19 vaccine MORE, the top infectious disease expert in the country, predicts there will be another outbreak in the fall. While the U.S. may be better prepared in September, humanity learned in 1918 that second waves can be more deadly than the first.

In late March, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. This stimulus package allocates $2.2 trillion to support individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic and economic downturn. Another stimulus package is apparently in the works as well. Massive debt financing to respond to a pandemic is reasonable and necessary. Yet, a recent study by Morgan Stanley estimates the budget deficit will total at least $3.7 trillion in 2020 plus an additional $3 trillion in 2021. Altogether, deficit spending in the next two years could drive the national debt to $29 trillion from an estimated $23.6 trillion right now. The bottom line: the U.S. Government's debt is now at a record high.

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Managing a COVID-19 pandemic and historic debt will be a challenge. President TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Pompeo: Trump taking action on Chinese software firms 'in coming days' Navarro: 'Don't fall for' message from TikTok lobbyists, 'puppet CEO' MORE could launch three high impact, low cost strategies tomorrow.

First, the Trump administration should advocate for humanitarian ceasefires in Yemen, Syria, the Congo, and other major conflicts so local health workers can focus on the pandemic. In late March, UN Secretary-General António Guterres made a similar appeal by urging warring parties across the world to “lay down their weapons” in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19. Last Wednesday, the Saudis and its coalition partners announced a two week ceasefire in Yemen in an effort to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 for that country’s 30 million people. During this Holy Season of Passover, Easter, and Ramadan, President Trump should tap Secretary Pompeo to build a coalition to champion a global humanitarian pause. By doing so, the U.S., China, Russia, and other powers have an opportunity to break the COVID-19 spread for civilians trapped in war.

Second, American ingenuity and technology can track data to anticipate hot spots in fragile states. New phone tracking technology from Israel and China raise privacy concerns. Americans — and much of the world — are simply not prepared to trade contact tracing for the end of individual privacy. There are alternatives that protect privacy, including innovations in anonymized contact tracing, remote sensing, heat mapping, social network analysis, and predictive analytics. These technologies allow public health officials to target limited resources to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Third, as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so famously said, “You go to war with the army you have.” The same is true for a pandemic response. National health systems are the first responders. But for poorer countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) provides critical information, coordination, and integration for public health responses.

The WHO is staffed by many dedicated public servants who strive to provide the best public health advice; but it is also true that the WHO is bureaucratic, often inefficient, politicized, and in need of modernization. In the midst of a pandemic response, the U.S. has a compelling interest to help — not undermine — the WHO, which needs to succeed in its mission to combat disease and strengthen health systems to help prevent or mitigate a deadly second wave of the virus.

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U.S. funding is required.

Leading American universities can deploy now to buttress research and analytical capabilities of the WHO. During this COVID-19 crisis, the Trump administration must assist the United Nations’ only public health institution.

Today’s pandemic will be a global challenge through the remainder of this year. The American public rightfully demands that the Trump administration save lives and minimize the economic fallout from COVID-19. Clearly, American leadership in developing fast testing and an effective vaccine will be a tremendous common good. In the meantime, the U.S. must also help stand up a global response before a vaccine is widely available, while recognizing the structural risk of massive national debt.

This administration has an opportunity to help the world — and itself — without breaking the bank, and in so doing, blunt the risk of a second COVID-19 wave in the homeland.

R. David Harden is managing director of the Georgetown Strategy Group and former assistant administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, where he oversaw U.S. assistance to all global crises. Follow him on Twitter at @Dave_Harden.