Alonzo Fulgham | Palladium - Apr 27 2020
When it Comes to COVID-19, Foreign Aid is Domestic Aid

Alonzo Fulgham, Palladium Board Member and former Acting Administrator of USAID

Alonzo Fulgham, Palladium Board Member and Former Acting Administrator of USAID reflects on his time with the agency and its role in the current crisis.

On the 21st of April alone, the U.S. reported over 25,000 new cases of COVID-19 and over 2,800 deaths, just shy of the death toll on 9/11. We’ve watched for decades as the world grew increasingly interconnected – an abstract notion thrown into sharp focus by the current outbreak.

That interconnectivity lies at the heart of the decisions we face as a nation, plotting a path out of this crisis. Reflecting on my time as Acting Administrator of USAID, development work overseas has always been in America’s best interests. American-led aid helps people to improve their lives through better health, education and jobs, and in doing so, curbs undocumented immigration, builds stronger foreign markets for American companies, and stabilises conflict that would otherwise put Americans and our allies at risk.

It also detects and protects us against infectious disease threats. And now, it helps to stop the spread of COVID-19 – a disease with no respect for borders or the misguided, zero-sum debate between sending aid overseas, and investing it at home. We must recognise that these two sides are one and the same; that there is no long-term success to be had as a nation if COVID-19 continues to surge across the globe.

“Health experts have identified the weakness of developing countries’ healthcare systems as one of the biggest risks to the global spread of the virus,” claims a recent press release from UK Aid. “They have also warned that if coronavirus is left to spread in developing countries, this could lead to the virus re-emerging in the UK later in the year.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agrees. “Through decades of U.S. global leadership in health and humanitarian assistance, we know that smart and strategic investments have proven critical to protecting the homeland,” he says. “As history proves, we can fight pandemics at home and help other nations contain their spread abroad.”

We can, and we must, or our efforts at home will be in vain.

USAID’s experience on the front lines during times of global environmental and medical crisis is well documented. In our recent history with MERS, H1N1, SARS, and the most recent Ebola outbreak, our engagement was both a priority and a success story, as USAID interacted with our global partners in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Africa to stem the tide on pathogen spread, triage and treat the sick, maintain international trade pathways, and advance our strong investments in infrastructure building and resource development.

As I write, there is a small army of highly intelligent and dedicated people, from the Ronald Reagan office complex in downtown DC to suburban homes in Reston and Alexandria, burning considerable midnight oil designing plans, implementing strategies, and advising governments on how to halt the spread of COVID-19 at home and abroad.

But while the current crisis is immediate, it won’t be the last we face as Americans or as part of a global community, underlining the need for USAID and others to continue pursuing longer-term development goals alongside our pandemic response.

USAID’s efforts have been crucial to mitigating not only the direct impacts of outbreaks around the world, but the indirect increase in deaths caused by reduced capacity across healthcare systems overall. Pandemics expose the fragility of our systems, and as other priorities are put on hold in a crisis, “collateral damage” in the form of increased (and otherwise preventable) mortality is inevitable.

Development builds resilience, which will be required across health systems in the next pandemic, economies in the next financial downturn, and societies as ever-stronger natural disasters risk lives and livelihoods across the globe.

A community of partners stand at the ready to help USAID deliver on its mandate, and I believe, so too stand the American people. As John Barsa, USAID’s current Acting Administrator noted when introducing himself last week to the USAID workforce, “The work you’ve been doing must not only continue, but has become even more important.”

US-led and financed development work is crucial, both at home and overseas; in the current crisis and in preparation for the next.

Alonzo Fulgham has over 30 years of international development, strategic planning, and global operational leadership experience. He was the first Chief Operating Officer of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and was appointed as Acting Administrator of USAID by President Barack Obama in 2009.