The U.S. Agency for International Development’s global coronavirus response will run out of money in the coming weeks without new funding from Congress, USAID Assistant Administrator for Global Health Atul Gawande warned on Tuesday.
“We are grinding our operations to a halt,” Gawande said at The Hill’s Future of Health Care Summit. “The COVID task force will have to go away in the next couple of months.”
USAID has helped more than 120 countries contain and combat the virus since the pandemic began 2 1/2 years ago.
As Americans adjust to a new reality of living with COVID-19 variants — aided by vaccines and treatments — Gawande told The Hill contributing editor Steve Clemons that leaders must not lose sight of the importance of helping address the spread of the virus overseas.
Gawande said funding for the task force ran out last month, and the agency has been lobbying lawmakers since December to reup the financing at a minimum of $5 billion. So far, however, Congress has delivered none.
Some parts of the world are still struggling with high death rates from COVID-19. Countries like Yemen, Sudan and Syria have case fatality rates more than five times the level of the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University. USAID’s coronavirus task force has helped deliver vaccines and rapid tests to these areas.
“In places like the United States, we now have the tools … to disconnect the cases from the deaths so far,” Gawande said at the event, sponsored by AdvaMed, Butterfly, Emergent and Protect the Promise. “Those rapid diagnostic tests for people in most of sub-Saharan Africa and Haiti and other parts of the world … they’re not there.”
The agency’s task force has been able to provide nearly $10 billion to combat the pandemic globally, but Gawande warned the U.S. was in danger of conceding the fight against the virus when it is nearly over.
“We’ve gotten through three of the four quarters in this football game, and we can’t give up the game now on COVID,” Gawande said. “We still have surges that will come.”
Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, also spoke at Tuesday’s event, pressing Congress to also fund development of the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s essential that we get more resources, or we’re not going to meet the challenge that’s inevitable,” Fauci said.
“We need the next generation of vaccines, particularly mucosally administered vaccines that would do much better.”