“Build Back Better” in the Time of COVID – Creating a Stronger, Healthier World

By Michael Klosson, Vice President, Public Policy and Advocacy

While much attention will be rightly focused on how the U.S. recovers from COVID-19, the global nature of the pandemic has demonstrated that we are living in an extremely interconnected world and must focus on the fate of everyone around the world, especially our children.  Global health knows no borders and Americans are equally vulnerable to threats from infectious diseases such as the current pandemic.  Recent public surveys found that the majority of voters say stopping the global spread of COVID-19 should be a priority of the next U.S. President.  Americans understand instinctively that unless we stop it everywhere, no one will be safe.

This global pandemic is not just a health crisis; it has been catastrophic to economies, food security and social safety nets. It has pushed at least 37 million more people into extreme poverty, threatens to increase hunger amongst an additional 130 million people, and has caused violence against women and girls to spike.

COVID-19 has put an entire generation of children at risk. More than 1.6 billion learners faced school closures at the peak due to the pandemic. Save the Children’s own analysis predicts that this unprecedented disruption to children’s education will result in at least 10 million children never returning to school, with girls, refugees, and internally displaced children most affected. According to a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, an additional 1.2 million children under five could die within six months due to interruptions in routine health services including suspended vaccination campaigns and rising malnutrition.

And as in America, some children are being hit harder than others. Girls and refugee children stand to suffer the most from the harmful impacts of COVID-19. Rohingya refugee children in Cox’s Bazaar and children living in war-torn Yemen already had difficulty accessing health services and continuing their studies prior to COVID-19. In a global survey conducted by Save the Children, a majority of girls reported being kept from schoolwork due to more household chores and caregiving responsibilities, which will make it harder for them to return to school. Girls are also at greater risk of gender-based violence and early marriage due to the economic strain of the pandemic.

Before this global pandemic, many in the international development community were celebrating forward progress and trying to figure out how to achieve ambitious goals such as ending extreme poverty, as agreed to in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a blueprint world leaders agreed to achieve a better, more sustainable future for all. Five years ago, the United States joined other world leaders, committing to the SDGs. U.S. foreign assistance has helped halve the number of young children and mothers dying in the last two decades, connected nearly 100 million more children to a quality education, and helped reduced levels of food insecurity in partner countries. The U.S. has encouraged other nations to develop plans to improve citizens’ health and well-being.

COVID-19 threatens to reverse decades of progress toward achieving this ambitious agenda, imperil U.S. development investments and generate greater insecurity in fragile countries.  As the virus moves us backwards, away from a freer, fairer and more stable world, the United States must once again lead the way forward. The pandemic gives the U.S. an opportunity to think about how it can support countries’ own plans to “build back better” with an emphasis on empowering citizens to increasingly drive their own development and supporting countries to sustainably meet the needs of their people. In today’s interconnected world, it is critical for the U.S. to reestablish itself in the global arena, working to realize a better world for all – an outcome that will yield important outcomes for all Americans.  

The Biden Administration must:

  • First, restore the international affairs budget to at least $60 billion, and request robust resources to address health, economic, and social impacts of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable communities globally.
  • Second, engage with multilateral organizations to improve effectiveness, accountability, and transparency. This includes immediately rejoining World Health Organization and the global COVID vaccine facility, as well as partnerships such as the Open Government Partnership focused on effective governance.
  • Last, immediately nominate a committed, qualified leader for U.S. Agency for International Development as well as other health and development agencies and take steps to ensure their perspectives are weighed in our highest policy making councils.  
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