U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday announced that the U.S. is contributing an additional $7 million to fight the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, following the U.S. Agency for International Development’s $1 million donation.
The World Health Organization estimates it will take at least $26 million to quell the current outbreak, and the U.S. contribution brings the internationally raised total up to approximately $25.45 million.
Azar pushed for other countries “to contribute to WHO’s flash appeal to ensure we defeat this outbreak,” according to the text of remarks he planned to deliver at the World Health Assembly.
“Each of us represents individual nations, but we share many health challenges,” Azar said. “By working together and remaining focused on our greatest cross-border health threats, we will make WHO the organization it needs to be to keep our world safe.”
The $8 million from the U.S. out of USAID, in addition to U.S. technical equipment and expertise, surpasses what had been the biggest international donation ― $5.9 million from Germany.
The U.K. was the first country to donate to emergency efforts after the outbreak was began on May 8 with approximately $1.7 million, and Canada announced a $2.5 million donation over the weekend. WHO’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies, The Wellcome Trust, the United Nations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, all contributed money the week the outbreak was announced.
According to USAID, the U.S. donated $2.4 billion of the total $3.6 billion spent globally to control the 2014 West Africa Ebola epidemic, which killed over 11,300 people and infected 28,000 more. The U.K. contributed $364 million and Germany $165 million.
In the current outbreak, authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have reported a total of 46 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of the deadly viral hemorrhagic fever, and 26 deaths. Most of the cases are in the remote, rural town of Bikoro, but there are four confirmed and two suspected cases in urban Wangata.
Since Wangata is considered part of the provincial capital of Mbandaka, which is home to over 1.2 million people and located on the “superhighway of Central Africa” ― the Congo River ― the WHO has warned there is a very high chance Ebola will spread nationally, and a high chance it will spread regionally. But experts hailed the first deployment Monday of an experimental Ebola vaccine and the WHO’s comparatively quick response time as vitally important factors in the effort to quell this outbreak swiftly.
Advocates also praised the U.S. donation as a welcome turnaround in American global health leadership, though some have wondered why the announcement of additional funding was delayed. Top Democrats have been calling for answers about the sudden departure of Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer, who headed the National Security Council’s global health security directorate, and the disbanding of his division the day the Ebola outbreak was announced. That same week, President Donald Trump announced proposed rescissions of leftover Ebola funds from the 2014 crisis.
While the U.S. waited to announce its donation, other world leaders like Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped in and filled the void, global health expert Laurie Garrett argued in Foreign Policy.
At the World Health Assembly, which kicked off this week, some attendees suggested the U.S. had abdicated its role as a global health leader, comparing its then-$1 million donation to the other contributions, Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told HuffPost earlier.
But this decisive move should change all that, Jha said Tuesday.
“It’s a good number that reaffirms American leadership” in the global health space, Jha said. “People have wondered whether in the Trump era, if America is taking a back seat. Secretary Azar is making it clear that when it comes to global health, we plan to remain engaged in solving the most important problems.”
Jeremy Konyndyk, who helped lead the 2014 Ebola response for the Obama administration, said the increase was a “substantial contribution” that deserves credit. Konyndyk is now a senior policy fellow for the Washington-based Center for Global Development.
“Strong up-front funding like this reflects the reality that it is far cheaper to contain disease outbreaks early via a proactive ― rather than reactive ― response operation,” Konyndyk told HuffPost.
The U.S. contribution also encourages other nations to join the effort, said Dr. Thomas Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“And it signals, especially via the announcement from Secretary Azar, that the U.S. is not stepping back, but will be engaging in this international effort,” Inglesby added. “Hopefully [it’s] a sign that the U.S. will be leaning in should things get worse.”
For Ronald Klain, former President Barack Obama’s Ebola czar, the move is welcome.
“It’s encouraging to see the Trump administration finally stepping up to show some leadership as Germany and the U.K. have,” Klain said. “Being leaders in global health security is both the right thing to do and a critical aspect of keeping the American people safe.”
Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), a physician who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. contribution “is great news for the health care professionals on the ground.”
“We need to continue to support those on the ground and make sure they have the resources they need to contain this outbreak,” Bera said in a statement.