USAID ships COVID-19 supplies from Dubai to Oregon

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An Oregon Army National Guard soldier loads shipments of personal protective equipment to be distributed throughout Oregon. Photo by: Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Holden / Oregon Military Department / CC BY

WASHINGTON — For the first time since Hurricane Katrina struck the southern U.S. in 2005, the U.S. Agency for International Development is deploying its overseas disaster relief supplies — generally intended for international crises — to support domestic response efforts.

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On Friday, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management reported that it received 78 pallets of personal protective equipment to aid in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The equipment, which includes an estimated 150,000 N95 masks, 2,500 scrubs pants, 2,000 scrubs tops, 250 coveralls, and 67,000 face shields, was shipped by USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance from a warehouse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates — one of four warehouses where OFDA stores pre-positioned emergency supplies around the world.

“PPE is critical to keeping our public health workers safe from COVID-19. Today Oregon received 78 pallets of PPE from @USAID and @theOFDA, adding to the state’s stockpiles of N95 masks and other PPE,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown wrote Friday on Twitter.

The shipment follows an “urgent request” from USAID to its implementing partners for PPE and other medical equipment that might be used in the U.S. government’s response to COVID-19.

According to Erica Euen, an employee at the Oregon COVID-19 Joint Information Center, USAID presented an offer of PPE to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which then distributed the supplies to Oregon and several other states. It was not immediately clear which other states received PPE shipments.

USAID did not respond to an inquiry from Devex.

“The United States has not used USAID disaster relief supplies in country since Hurricane Katrina,” said Oregon OEM Director Andrew Phelps in a video posted to his office’s website.

With the U.S. now facing the largest number of reported COVID-19 cases in the world and hospitals in hot spots around the country reporting medical equipment shortages, USAID’s assistance to other countries has come under scrutiny.

“The United States has not used USAID disaster relief supplies in country since Hurricane Katrina.”

— Andrew Phelps, director, Oregon Office of Emergency Management

Last month, Politico reported that Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House’s coronavirus task force, ordered a freeze on USAID’s shipments of medical equipment to other countries to weigh those requests against America’s domestic needs.

With international supply chains disrupted by the pandemic, global health experts have warned about an international competition for critical medical supplies that could leave low-income countries behind.

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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.