TACOMA, Washington — As we welcome the new year and the new presidential administration, we look to the ways U.S. policies and initiatives can contribute to the global effort to alleviate poverty internationally. In President Biden’s first 100 days in office, he emphasized plans to accelerate COVID-19 vaccinations, depoliticize mask-wearing, extend unemployment benefits, pause student loan repayments, reform the criminal justice system and increase the supply of eco-friendly goods.
President Biden has also pushed for Congress members to support the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package and plans to organize an international summit where leaders from around the world will converse about strategies to reject corruption and expand human rights.
The Current Situation
There are about 110 million active cases of COVID-19 worldwide as of February 19, 2021. The actual global case count is likely to be much higher, as statistics can underreport true case counts due to testing limitations. Notably, developing countries disproportionately suffer as the coronavirus pandemic continues. As individuals living in extreme poverty have less access to quality healthcare, education on social distancing measures, testing sites, protective equipment and clean water, they are more at risk of contracting COVID-19.
The previous administration withdrew from the World Health Organization (WHO) amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequentially, this geopolitical and subsequent financial cost cut back essential resources to the international public health organization. Additionally, in 2020, the U.S. became the first nation to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which introduced a multitude of global concerns. When President Biden entered office, one of his first actions was to mend the United States’ relationship with the WHO and rejoin the Paris Agreement, which officially took place on February 19, 2021.
Rejoining the World Health Organization
The WHO’s committed, ongoing efforts for poverty reduction pave the path for public health milestones. For example, this has led to an astonishing improvement in child mortality rates, which have decreased by more than 30% since 2000. In combination with the WHO’s efforts, the Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This inevitably requires economic and social transformation, which directly impacts global poverty reduction for the present and the future. Rising sea levels and intense storms often displace vulnerable communities and exacerbate the loss of access to clean water, nutritional foods and secure housing.
The interconnection of all 195 countries in the world will greatly benefit from Biden’s decision to rejoin the WHO as U.S. participation will help reverse the health consequences of climate change, benefit pandemic preparedness and support health efforts globally. The WHO offers a stable foundation to build future pandemic preparedness as it has expertise in handling epidemics and pandemics alike. The World Health Organization typically helps with testing, contact tracing and treatment strategies to prevent other disease cases, such as Ebola.
Countries like India, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Rwanda are at high risk of adverse health effects due to climate change, such as extreme heat, floods and famine. Record-breaking heatwaves are becoming more frequent, which increases the risk of malaria. This disproportionately impacts those living in poverty as these vulnerable groups typically live near stagnant bodies of water. In 2019, it was estimated that 94% of deaths in the WHO African Region were due to malaria. Therefore, long-term commitment to reversing climate change and participating in the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility will assist at least 20% of the most vulnerable communities in low-and-middle-income countries.
A New Administrative Path
The proposed COVID-19 relief package is projected to support President Biden’s goal of 100 million coronavirus immunizations within his first 100 days in office. To achieve this, the relief plan would invest $20 billion into the national vaccination program, $50 billion for rapid testing and the financial resources necessary to hire more than 100,000 public health workers. The president also pledged to invest $11 billion in international aid and development.
The year 2020 will forever be ingrained in our memories as the lasting effects continue into our present. However, these are amazing first steps to investing in a brighter future for individuals living in extreme poverty worldwide. The Borgen Project volunteers are extremely excited to meet with the new Members of Congress in this new term to further discuss the importance of investing in a productive, global COVID-19 response.
– Adriane Phi