Aid jobs under threat, Supreme Court considers local affiliates, and a projected TB surge: This week in development

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A health volunteer shares information on tuberculosis in the Yangon region of Myanmar. Photo by: Aung Thura Ko Ko / USAID / CC BY-NC

Development professionals fear for their jobs and organizations, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments about prostitution policies and locally affiliated organizations, and experts fear a tuberculosis surge due to COVID-19. This week in development:

The first installment of a Devex survey reveals that most development professionals believe the coronavirus outbreak poses an existential threat to their careers and organizations. A majority — 55% — of the more than 500 aid practitioners polled are worried their organizations will not survive the financial fallout of the pandemic, 57% are concerned they could lose their jobs, 63% said their activities had been reduced, and 24% reported losses of employment or income. Consultants said they have been informed that organizations are cutting back on international recruitment, while others warned that smaller, niche organizations may lack the reserves to weather a financial crisis. Aid leaders have offered mixed reviews of donors’ efforts to support their partners through greater flexibility in existing grants and contracts and by making additional funding available for coronavirus-related activities. “If having to know exactly what is going to happen is the standard for donors to step up at scale, we’re going to be too late,” said Bill O’Keefe, head of advocacy at Catholic Relief Services. The Devex COVID-19 Trends Tracker survey will be updated over the course of the coronavirus crisis.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday — via teleconference due to COVID-19 — in a case about whether U.S.-based development organizations and their foreign affiliates speak with the same voice. The case is the latest installment of a long-standing argument about the “anti-prostitution loyalty oath,” a now-unconstitutional requirement for organizations receiving U.S. foreign assistance funding to officially denounce prostitution. While the court in 2013 ruled that U.S.-based organizations could not be forced to adopt such a position because of their right to free speech, the U.S. government — with its case brought by the U.S. Agency for International Development — has now asserted that organizations incorporated in foreign countries do not enjoy the same legal protection and can therefore be required to endorse certain policy positions to receive U.S. funding. For example, while the nonprofit CARE might be exempt from the anti-prostitution pledge, CARE Kenya, which shares the organization’s name, branding, and mission, could be forced to adopt it as a condition of receiving U.S. funds. Alliance for Open Society International, representing the NGOs, says this is akin to violating U.S.-based organizations’ freedom of speech, since they and their local affiliates speak with the same voice and because most of the general public does not differentiate between them. On Tuesday, the government’s lawyer argued that when organizations choose to establish local affiliates, “they have to accept the bitter with the sweet." Some aid experts have cautioned that allowing the government to stipulate policy positions for locally affiliated organizations could threaten their effectiveness and, with it, USAID’s broad effort to hand more responsibility to local and national implementers.

An additional 1.3 million people could die from tuberculosis over the next five years due to service disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, a recently released modeling analysis has found. TB cases could increase by 11% globally between 2020 and 2025 under a three-month lockdown scenario, according to the new report, which was commissioned by the Stop TB Partnership in collaboration with the Imperial College London, Avenir Health, and Johns Hopkins University and supported by USAID. That would be equivalent to 6.3 million new cases of TB in five years and would return the world to TB infection levels last seen in 2013. The projections are based on modeling in three countries — India, Kenya, and Ukraine — though the experts plan to expand their analysis to additional nations. The findings suggest that it will be critical for TB treatment and prevention programs to resume as quickly as possible when lockdowns are lifted, which may be complicated by the fact that people with TB and those with COVID-19 exhibit similar symptoms. “They will be afraid to go to the health facilities [and be] infected with COVID, but also afraid of being considered that they have COVID just because they have fever and cough,” said Cheri Vincent, chief of USAID’s TB division, in a virtual briefing.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.