Congress’ COVID-19 Response to African Countries: “Dig more graves.”
$20 billion in Emergency Funding is Needed to Respond to COVID-19 and HIV Pandemics; Current Funding Proposals Fall Dangerously Short
As South Africa – the African country with the largest COVID-19 and HIV epidemics, and one of the largest tuberculosis burdens in the world – digs tens of thousands of graves in preparation for an increase in COVID-related deaths, Congress is poised to recklessly underfund the U.S. share of the global response to the colliding pandemics. Senate Republicans have reportedly reached a deal on a COVID-19 emergency supplemental funding bill that would provide less than $5 billion for global health. Global health advocates agree that $20 billion is needed in this bill to adequately meet the need to fund COVID-19 response efforts and vaccine development in addition to ensuring the HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria responses stay on track amid disruptions caused by COVID-19. In particular, of that $20 billion in emergency funding, $1.4 billion is needed for PEPFAR and $4 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham reportedly agree that even double the current Republican Senate proposal is nowhere near enough to prevent millions of additional deaths from AIDS, TB, and malaria due to COVID-related disruptions in supply chains, personnel, transport, and other factors. Senator Leahy has said, “The longer Congress delays, the more costly – in lives and dollars – an effective international response to COVID-19 becomes.”
“After months of living with COVID-19, both chambers of Congress should realize this is an emergency and act like it,” said Asia Russell, Executive Director of Health GAP. “But the Senate Republicans’ global health funding proposal says they’re still in denial – or worse, that they’re comfortable with facilitating tens of thousands of deaths through gross negligence. And House Democrats have endorsed a bill that is at best a half-measure. If Congress fails to include the needed $20 billion in global health funding, they are telling the most vulnerable communities in impoverished countries that their COVID-19 response should be to dig more graves.”
UNAIDS projects that a six-month disruption in HIV treatment due to COVID-19 could cause more than 500,000 preventable deaths from AIDS-related illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa. Children would also be at increased risk: models predict new child HIV infections rise drastically, by as much as 83% in Mozambique, 106% in Zimbabwe, 139% in Uganda, and 162% in Malawi.
The $20 billion in emergency funding needed for global health in the next COVID-19 supplemental bill would include, among other investments: