Op-ed by Ambassador Howery, published in Expressen on April 2, 2020

The World Needs Solidarity to Defeat COVID-19 

Nineteen years ago, the world changed. The terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11 brought a shocking end to a decade of post-Cold War optimism and inspired fear and uncertainty. Today, our world is changing again. The emergence of the novel coronavirus infection in 2019, its rapid spread, and its lethality among the most vulnerable have shocked the world anew. After September 11, the world responded with a unified resolve to confront a new challenge. As with our global effort to defeat terrorism, the only way to overcome a challenge that knows no borders is for nations to work together.

Although the United States, like so many other countries, is fighting the outbreak within its own borders, we are committed to a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 26, the United States announced $274 million in emergency funding to help 64 of the world’s most at-risk countries combat the pandemic and enable the UN to assist some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. This is on top of $1.6 billion we will program in the coming months to support health systems internationally. On March 22, the United States delivered a mobile patient-staging unit and 21 days of medical supplies to Italy; the following day, we delivered medical supplies, equipment, food, and water to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The American people and private sector are doing their part too, with over $1.5 billion in charitable contributions to the COVID response. Samaritan’s Purse, a faith-based humanitarian charity organization, opened a specialized field hospital in Lombardy with 70 doctors, nurses, and staff to help in the hard-hit European region. Meanwhile, American companies are racing to find a vaccine and a cure.

In offering assistance, we have acted to help alleviate suffering despite political differences. We delivered 17 tons of medical supplies to China in early February; further assistance was rejected by the Chinese government. We also offered assistance to the Iranian people, but the regime refused to accept it. Rest assured, U.S. sanctions designed to force the Iranian regime to cease its malign activities are not preventing aid from getting to the Iranian people; our regulations allow for the sale of food, medicine, and medical devices to Iran.

In fact, the United States has been a leader in helping other nations improve public health since long before this current crisis. Since 2009, the United States has contributed $100 billion – by far more than any other nation – in global health assistance to help nations counter pandemic threats and address other health challenges. In 2019, the United States’ contributions to the WHO in 2019 exceeded $400 million, almost double the second largest contribution.  In 2019, the United States contributed more than $700 million to UNICEF.  These organizations have shipped tons of medical equipment to dozens of countries, including China.

Sweden, like the United States, is a leader in promoting global health, providing billions of Swedish Crowns each year in development assistance to improve healthcare in developing countries. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is proud to have just last week extended its partnership with Sida to use science, technology, innovation, and partnerships to advance international development.

As in all crises, transparency and information sharing are critical – every nation has an obligation to share without delay what it knows about COVID-19. When information is restricted, there are devastating consequences. The Chinese government itself has stated the COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan in December 2019. Instead of informing its own people and the world at that time, the Chinese Communist Party suppressed information about the virus and punished scientists and doctors for speaking out. This resulted in a missed opportunity to contain the virus and prevent the social and economic havoc it continues to wreak.

Prime Minister Löfven encouraged the Swedish people to act responsibly in this time of crisis, in part by not spreading rumors. Governments too must act responsibly. In this uncertain time, it is unfortunate that the CCP has chosen  to try to shift blame instead of taking responsibility to ensure future mistakes don’t occur. This only makes it harder to achieve solidarity in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is our responsibility – as individuals and as governments – to focus on constructive activities. We have an opportunity amid the crisis to demonstrate our commitment to our values – transparency, compassion, and perseverance – and to the global community. The United States will continue to aid our friends and look out for the most vulnerable, and we will support our innovators, scientists, and health care professionals to solve the challenge before us.

As published (in Swedish)