The race against COVID-19, Afghanistan's $1B cut, and World TB Day 2020: This week in development

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Screens show Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation amid the spread of COVID-19. Photo by: REUTERS / Amit Dave

COVID-19 threatens low- and middle-income countries, Trump cuts $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan, and a reminder about the world’s deadliest infectious disease. This week in development:

The global number of COVID-19 cases has surged past 450,000, with outbreaks now growing in many low- and middle-income countries that appeared insulated from the initial wave of infections. South Africa has reported over 700 cases of the novel coronavirus, representing roughly one-third of Africa’s confirmed cases. The number of cases in Pakistan, which shares a border with hard-hit Iran, has climbed to more than 1,000, while other countries show growth rates that suggest community transmission of the virus is already occurring. On Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a strict nationwide lockdown for at least 21 days, effectively ordering 1.3 billion people to stay home. While nearly every country in the world is now focused on slowing its own outbreak, the international community is pleading for resources to assist response efforts among the most vulnerable. On Wednesday, the United Nations launched a $2 billion global humanitarian funding appeal for COVID-19, which would support a response effort implemented by U.N. agencies and international NGOs. If funded, they plan to focus on delivering essential laboratory equipment for testing and medical supplies for treatment, installing hand-washing stations in camps and settlements, launching public information campaigns, and improving logistics to transport relief workers and supplies across Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Other aid donors, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, are issuing guidance to implementing partners about what additional costs will be allowable as organizations put in place new safety protocols for staff and incur unplanned expenses brought on by adapting their projects to an operating environment completely transformed by the pandemic.

The Trump administration plans to cut $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan this year, citing rival politicians’ failure to form a unified government and facilitate a planned U.S. military withdrawal from the country. “The United States is disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who — despite the global coronavirus crisis — traveled to Afghanistan this week but failed to broker an agreement. Pompeo noted that the U.S. would undergo a review of its assistance to the heavily aid-dependent country and would consider cutting an additional $1 billion in assistance next year. He did not say where those cuts would come from, but he did suggest the U.S. would continue to support Afghan security forces. The reduction in funding could deal a major blow to Afghanistan’s government, which relies on international aid for roughly 75% of its public expenditures. The country is also bracing for a wider spread of COVID-19, which Afghanistan’s health minister said on Tuesday could infect 80% of the country’s population.

The World Health Organization has issued new guidance for preventing tuberculosis, which kills more than 1 million people per year and stands as the world’s deadliest infectious disease. On Tuesday — World Tuberculosis Day — the international body recommended that efforts to combat the disease adopt a range of innovative approaches aimed at scaling up access to TB prevention. The new guidelines include increasing TB preventive treatment among at-risk populations, integrating preventive treatment services during screenings of people who reside with TB patients, and adopting new, shorter options for preventive treatment. People living with TB are particularly vulnerable to the new coronavirus, and the two diseases present similar symptoms: a dry cough, fever, fatigue, and trouble breathing. “TB has built a lot of capacity in countries that can be used to support the COVID response and to continue the response to TB,” said Susan Maloney, chief of the global TB branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a Devex digital event Monday.

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.