Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Media Engagement. I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from the United States and around the world.
This is an on-the-record conference call with USAID Acting Administrator John Barsa and Department of State Director of Foreign Assistance Jim Richardson. Acting Administrator Barsa and Director Richardson will discuss global assistance to fight COVID-19. They will give brief remarks and then answer questions from participating journalists.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to Acting Administrator Barsa.
Acting Administrator Barsa: Thank you, Cassidy. Good afternoon, thank you for having us here today. For those that I haven’t met yet, I’m John Barsa, the new Acting Administrator at USAID, and I am deeply honored to have been chosen for this position. I want to thank President Trump for the support and confidence he placed in me. I look forward to working with him, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, and the rest of the team at USAID as we lead one of the finest workforces in the U.S. Government today.
We are here to discuss how the United States continues to demonstrate global leadership and help countries around the world fight the COVID-19 pandemic. With 2.3 billion in emergency supplemental funding provided by Congress, USAID is working with the State Department and CDC to provide assistance that strengthens health systems, meets emergency humanitarian needs, and mitigates the economic impact of the virus’s spread.
With the Secretary’s announcement last week, we have now contributed a total of more than $775 million across more than 120 countries facing the threat of this global pandemic. Here’s a little more detail for you on the specific pots of money that those figures encompass.
It includes nearly $103 million from the Economic Support Fund, or ESF, account – again, that’s $103 million in the Economic Support Fund – which nongovernmental organizations will use to implement a variety of interventions to support communities and countries.
We will also be committing an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance from USAID’s International Disaster Assistance, or IDA, account – again, that’s an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance from USAID’s IDA, or International Disaster Assistance, account – to help meet urgent, lifesaving needs in crisis-affected areas.
In every corner of the globe, because of the generosity of the American people, the United States is lending a helping hand to countries that need it the most. Many of these countries are places where we regularly provide assistance. Our expanded presence in other countries demonstrates the extraordinary nature of this crisis. Through this latest round of funding, USAID will scale up our COVID-19 response efforts and continue working through international organizations and NGOs to reach people in need around the world.
For example, in Cambodia we will provide short-term relief and job-skills training to vulnerable people, including returning migrants, to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 and to expand countertrafficking and child protection efforts.
And in the Dominican Republic, USAID will support critical needs in the areas of social protection, psychosocial support, education, water and sanitation, and food security in vulnerable communities. This will be critical to prevent development backsliding and mitigate the second-order impacts of COVID-19.
These are just two of the 120 countries where funding will be implemented.
To make sure our assistance is as impactful as possible, the support we provide is tailored to each country’s distinct capacity and needs. Our toolkit of support includes investments that improve case management; disease surveillance and public health screening; strengthen infection prevention and control at medical facilities; bolster laboratory capacity; scale up communication campaigns to raise awareness; expand access to water and sanitation services; and more.
America remains the leader in global health and humanitarian assistance. Through unmatched generosity, the American people have saved countless lives, protected those who are in the most – who are most vulnerable to disease, built health infrastructure, and promoted the stability of communities and nations. America has always led the world through times of strife, turmoil, and uncertainty, and this pandemic is no different.
Lastly, I want to highlight President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary Pompeo for their extraordinary leadership on the world stage throughout the crisis. This all-star team and the rest of the Trump administration is working around the clock to stem the spread of the virus at home and abroad, and they deserve our recognition.
Thank you, and over to you, Jim and Cassidy.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. We’ll now turn to Director Richardson for his opening remarks.
Director Richardson: Great. Thanks, John and Cassidy. Good morning, everyone. First, I want to join John in acknowledging the leadership of the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State, and really our talented teams both at the State Department and USAID, as we work together to defeat COVID both here at home and abroad.
As the President knows all too well that pandemics like COVID-19 don’t respect natural – national borders, so our all-of-America response can’t respect national borders either. We can and must fight pandemics both at home and overseas. It’s not a zero-sum game. It actually builds on one another. And we are starting this in a position of leadership. America is the undisputed leader in foreign assistance, period. Having invested nearly half a trillion dollars – that’s almost $500 billion – in the developed world over the past 20 years, including 140 billion in health assistance alone, we know what works and what doesn’t.
From both a financial investment and an impact perspective – so it’s not just how much money we are putting in, it’s what kind of results we are seeing – the United States is also the world’s leader in fighting this pandemic around the world. This fact is underscored by Secretary Pompeo’s announcement of last week of an additional $270 million in humanitarian and economic assistance for the global COVID-19 response.
In addition to what John outlined from USAID, this also includes $67 million in migration and refugee assistance from the State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration.
This total funding today brings our U.S. Government’s commitment to more than $775 million in lifesaving aid out of the 2.4 billion that Congress has already provided, or has so far provided, to this response. But that’s just part of the story. It’s not just what the U.S. Government is doing. We really are proud of the all-of-America response. From the philanthropic to the corporate to the private donor to our government response, the American people, in all of those things put together, has given over $6.5 billion in COVID assistance and donations worldwide. To put this in perspective, this is nearly six times more than the second-largest donor and 12 times more than China.
The United States continues to welcome high-quality, transparent, no-strings-attached contributions from every donor in the world to help fight this pandemic. With our $775 million in government assistance we’ve provided so far, we are providing direct assistance to over 100 countries around the world. You’ll be able to find all of these details about all of these countries in comprehensive fact sheets which will be available publicly later today, but let me just highlight a few to give you a perspective.
First, Italy. We are providing $50 million in economic support funding for Italy, one of our closest allies and friends, helping them recover the Italian economy and supporting international organizations and NGOs which are providing lifesaving assistance on the ground.
In the Philippines we’ve already provided more than $15 million to support labs that have already been making a difference by taking raw materials and producing disinfectants for local hospitals.
In Nigeria we’ve invested $30 million. In addition to critical health and humanitarian assistance, the U.S. already has been working with a telecom company to distribute text and voice messages on how best to prevent the spread of the virus.
In the Sahel region of Africa we’ve invested $5 million working with partner governments and civil society to help manage and respond to COVID-19 with transparent communications and responses.
And lastly, in Colombia we’ve invested more than $12 million where local women are using skills learned from prior U.S.-funded programs to help protect their community by producing more than 3,000 face masks for doctors and nurses.
The generosity of the American people is on full display in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. While others seem to retreat or seem to point fingers, the American people are riding towards the sound of the guns, going head first into winning the battle against this pandemic, both here at home and around the world.
With that, we’re happy to answer your questions.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. When called on, please limit yourself to one question related to U.S. global assistance in the fight against COVID-19.
Our first question will go to Alejandra Arredondo from VOA.
Question: My question is in regards to Venezuela. President – president in dispute Nicolas Maduro said that he would receive aid from the UN and the Pan American Health Organization, and even aid from the United States. So I wanted to see what your thoughts are on the humanitarian assistance to Venezuela that could come through the government of Maduro. And how – and I also wanted to ask, how is USAID helping the COVID response in Venezuela? Thank you very much.
Acting Administrator Barsa: Thank you for the question. Certainly, since before the COVID pandemic occurred, the United States and other donor countries have been trying to get vast amounts of humanitarian assistance into Venezuela to help the suffering Venezuelan people, but have been blocked by Nicolas Maduro and the dictatorship in Venezuela. Certainly, with the COVID situation right now, the situation within Venezuela is dire. I’m afraid I don’t have the latest information in front of me in terms of the latest stance so I can’t comment on that, but I certainly would like to reiterate the call that Maduro should open the door and let humanitarian assistance into Venezuela at the scale needed to ease the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. Our next question will go to Santi Dewi from IDN Times in Indonesia.
Question: Hello, good evening. It’s already evening in Jakarta. Thank you very much for the opportunity. I have two questions for you, sir. The first is based on the last phone conversation between President Trump and our president, he said that American Government would help to provide ventilators to Indonesia. My question: Do you have the data on how many of these medical equipment will be sent to our country? And would it be in a form of donation or our government should purchase it?
And then my second question is that: What is American Government’s response, because there were some critics to your own country that actually the government is supposed to help or aid the situation in this pandemic inside the country before they’re willing to help another country by giving some aid or medical equipment? Thank you very much.
Acting Administrator Barsa: Okay, let me take on the first part of your question and I’m going to ask you to restate the second part of the question to make sure I understand it correctly.
Regarding PPE or ventilators, so the United States has been working hard to increase capacity of much-needed medical supplies. Once the global supply chain further mobilizes and catches up to demand, we’ll have more options to consider regarding ventilators. In terms of the pledges President Trump has made to a variety of different presidents and countries, I believe we’re going to have details country by country on separate fact sheets which will be available to you later on today, which have the details particular to your country. But I do need to say the provision of ventilators and medical supplies in no way will impact the American people.
So can you restate the second part of your question, please?
Question: My second question is that: What is American Government’s response, because there were some critics that said the government should aid the American people first other than giving medical equipment or aid to another country?
Acting Administrator Barsa: Okay, thank you. So first of all, as Director Richardson and I stated, right now the American Government has committed to COVID more than $775 million. That far outstrips the generosity or the contributions of any country, and Director Richardson could get more details for that as well.
Regarding the fight for COVID and whether equipment – as we stated earlier, there’s many things in our toolkit to fight the pandemic. So it is more than just equipment. So what USAID does, we provide a variety of options that are tailored to the needs of a specific country. So if I may, so the toolkit of support that we give to countries includes things like investments that improve case management; disease surveillance and public health screening; strengthens infection prevention and control at medical facilities; bolster laboratory capacity; scale up communicate – and we’re scaling up communication campaigns to raise awareness; access to water and sanitation services. These are the variety of activities we support and assist with in individual countries. So the fight against COVID is much more than the assistance provided by equipment.
Jim, did you want to mention any —
Director Richardson: Yeah, let me – yeah, let me just add on top of that, and thank you, John. At the end of the day, our commitment and passion with working with the people of Indonesia is on full display. I mean, the American people have invested over $5 billion in Indonesia over the past 20 years. We really value the relationship and the goodwill that exists between our two peoples, and it’s a really important relationship for the Trump administration.
So far for COVID, the – we’ve already announced $5 million in assistance to Indonesia for COVID. We’ve already trained more than 70,000 pharmacists across Indonesia as part of our overall work in that country. And so it’s an incredibly important – an incredibly important partner. As John said, the President has made a wonderful commitment to Indonesia for additional ventilators. We’re going to have more details on that, but absolutely the President is going to deliver on that commitment, and we’re proud of President Trump for making that commitment to the people of Indonesia, and we look forward a lot more – look forward to a lot more announcements of ventilators and other supplies that are critically needed by countries around the world as the American supply chain ramps up in these critical areas, and we look forward to continuing to be a good partner of Indonesia.
Question: Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. Our next question will be one we received in advance from Reda Chennour with Alkhabar newspaper in Algeria. Her question is, “What kind of assistance are you giving Africa? Is it financial or medical aid? Can we know how much of that is going to Algeria?”
Acting Administrator Barsa: Thank you. I’ll start with that one. I’ll defer to Jim or a fact sheet on the specifics, but in total we are providing more than $248 million in health and humanitarian assistance across Africa, and in tandem, our existing programs are working hard to integrate essential COVID-19 precautions and protections, providing handwashing stations, spacing out food distributions, and integrating information on hygiene and social distancing into public service announcements. We’re providing the right type of assistance based on the unique needs of each country and context.
Jim, over to you if you would like to add any more.
Director Richardson: Yeah, no, I think John hit it exactly right. Our commitment to Africa is pretty unprecedented around the world, I mean, and so we’ve invested, as I said, hundreds of billions of dollars into Africa over the years. We have provided some assistance to Algeria – so far, $500,000 we’ve committed to Algeria to help mitigate the impact on the Algerian society by strengthening risk communications and community engagement approaches under the Government of Algeria’s preparedness and response plans.
So we look forward to continuing to work closely with Algeria and all of our African partners, and really all of partners around the world.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question will go to Carla Angola with EVTV in Miami.
Question: Good morning to everyone. Thank you for this opportunity. On Venezuela, after an airplane with 90 tons of aid was sent to Venezuela in coordination with the UN, what other plans are there and with whom are you coordinating, Maduro, President Guaido, or both?
And the other one is: How frustrating is it for you to remember that February 23rd, in Cucuta, when an attempt was made to enter Venezuela with humanitarian aid but Maduro’s regime prevented it at all costs, and all these months passed without the Venezuelans being able to receive assistance from the United States and their allies, to see that today they do accept what you have been wanting to do for so long? Thank you.
Acting Administrator Barsa: Well, thank you very much. Let me first start off by saying I have nothing to announce today on efforts or our ability to get desperately needed humanitarian assistance inside of Venezuela. But you’re exactly right, our sympathies are with the long-suffering Venezuelan people. It has been extremely frustrating to see how Nicolas Maduro and his regime has turned a blind eye to the suffering of the Venezuelan people and rejected humanitarian assistance at the scale necessary to ease the suffering. It has been just terrible to see that, which is why we have been calling for global condemnation of his actions. So our commitment to the Venezuelan people remains, our desire to ease the suffering remains, and unfortunately I have nothing to announce in terms of progress on this front today.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. Our next question will go to Nick Turse from Yahoo News.
Question: Hi, thanks for taking the time to talk today. There was a USAID program that was recently allowed to end called PREDICT or PREDICT-2, and it was an initiative aimed at identifying animal viruses that might jump to humans. Experts say it should have been funded for another 10 years, but it was ended prematurely. Given what we know about COVID-19, is allowing PREDICT to end a wise idea?
Acting Administrator Barsa: Thank you for your question. I think the use of the word “prematurely” may not be completely in context. So the PREDICT program had a normal lifecycle with a start date and a planned end date. We actually extended the period of performance on the PREDICT program, but it was a planned lifecycle. This was not ended prematurely. If anything, it was extended for a bit. What we are starting up is we’re starting up the procurement for the follow-on program to PREDICT, called STOP Spillover. So we’re building upon what we learned during the PREDICT program to have the next generation of these activities take place.
So information about the PREDICT program being ended prematurely, that’s not accurate. But we’re very pleased with the next procurement coming on board. Thank you.
Question: When will STOP Spillover begin?
Acting Administrator Barsa: I don’t have the details in front of me. We can get back to you on the details, but we’re —
Question: That would be great.
Acting Administrator Barsa: — starting the procurement process right now. But again, this was a normal, planned follow-on activity.
Question: Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. It looks like we have time for one more question, so we’ll go back to one more we received in advance from Mirna Jammal with France24 TV. Her question is, “Is there any collaboration between USAID and Arab governments? And how much does the USA – did USAID give the Middle East, or what kind of aid did USAID offer?”
Acting Administrator Barsa: Thank you. Absolutely. USAID is providing almost $125 million for countries in the Middle East in both health and humanitarian assistance, and we are ensuring our preexisting programs are able to integrate essential protocols and pivot their approach for COVID-19. We are working closely with the ministries of health in these countries, and we have been for years, which has ensured their ability to respond so effectively.
Supported activities include technical assistance for disease surveillance and rapid response, infection prevention and control, and laboratory diagnostics. Through local partner organizations, USAID also plans to provide support for awareness and youth engagement campaigns through social media, infection prevention and control, and laboratory strengthening in the Middle East and North Africa.
Moderator: Thank you very much.
Director Richardson: Great, and this is Jim. Just to add on top of that, I think the numbers speak for themselves. I mean, we’ve invested $30 million in COVID funding for Iraq. We’ve provided money for Lebanon, for Jordan, for Yemen, for West Bank and Gaza. These are really dire times in the Middle East, and as John mentioned, we’ve invested $8 billion in the Middle East over the past 20 years or so, and we’re looking to continue to build on those – that infrastructure that we have worked so closely with our Arab partners to build, and look forward to continuing to strengthen those relationships.
Moderator: Thank you very much. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank Acting Administrator Barsa and Director Richardson for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating today. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Office of International Media Engagement at PAIMEStaff@state.gov. Thank you and have a good day.