The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of the international institutions that has announced it will stand with Egypt in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
USAID is an independent agency of the United States federal government that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance.
In an exclusive interview, USAID’s Mission Director in Egypt Sherry Carlin told Ahram Online that the US government is committed to continuing to support the government and people of Egypt during the crisis.
She stressed that partnership between the two countries is important to US foreign policy and to the American people, thus, USAID will continue the forward movement of impactful programs that are fully in line with Egyptian government priorities.
Ahram Online: How is USAID helping Egypt contain and combat COVID-19?
Sherry Carlin: The United States government has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over four decades through USAID to help Egypt prepare for and respond to health crises like the one we all are facing today. Our 40-year partnership with the government and people of Egypt created the foundations for Egypt’s ability to contain and combat infectious and emerging diseases, including COVID-19.
In this regard, USAID supported the Ministry of Health and Population (MOHP) to establish programs that analyze and monitor cases of infectious disease, develop response strategies, and raise public awareness of related threats. These are proving to be crucial in the fight against COVID-19.
Together with the MOHP we trained Community Health Workers who provide information in rural communities on healthy behaviors such as effective hand washing that will help to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.
Our scholarships have supported the undergraduate education of nurses at public and private universities. Many scholarship recipients are now in their first year of residency, working under supervision to treat patients. Several of our USAID partners have created and distributed public awareness materials to emphasize the importance of hand washing and personal hygiene as a mitigation for coronavirus.
The United States is also supporting youth volunteers in North Sinai with the Al Gora Community Development Association to raise awareness of COVID-19 and reach out to families in Al Arish and neighboring communities. The volunteers are providing a health protection kit that includes such as sanitizers in addition to information about good hygiene practices.
Eitesal Business Nurturing Initiative (EBNI), a U.S. government-supported incubator, is using 3D printers and laser cutters to produce face shields for area hospitals. So far, EBNI has produced and delivered 1,700 face masks to seven local hospitals. We also support incubators at the Arab Academy for Maritime and the British University in Egypt, which are also working on prototypes for medical masks.
We are also supporting the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development to provide economic analyses of COVID-19’s impacts and draft recommendations for possible economic stimulus packages to manage a potential financial crisis.
AO: Regarding the recent meetings held by the Ministry of International Cooperation, how is USAID supporting the People-Projects with Purpose initiative to contain COVID-19’s impacts? And what kind of assistance will USAID offer to the government of Egypt?
SC: We coordinate closely with the Ministry of International Cooperation and other donors to provide assistance in areas needed most. Through USAID we have partnered with Egypt for more than 40 years and are committed to continuing our programs in the health sector as well as empowering women, educating youth, and ensuring inclusive economic growth.
Our work supports Egypt to build self-reliance through effective, inclusive, and accountable solutions. Our projects will continue to align with Egypt’s priorities, including financial inclusion, social protection, mitigating the economic impact of the crisis, and strengthening health and education systems.
AO: What is your impression of Egypt's preventative procedures and precautionary measures adopted to deal with COVID-19? What should Egypt do more to cope with the current situation?
SC: Our legacy activities in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Population have contributed to Egypt’s early detection of COVID-19 cases and contact tracing.
In the 1990s, USAID and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established and supported Egypt’s Field Epidemiology Training Program, which is still active today under the MOHP’s leadership. Egyptian epidemiologists who trained through this program now lead the MOHP’s efforts in case detection and contact tracing in every governorate. Their work allows the MOHP to quickly identify outbreak hotspots and identify who may have come into contact with individuals who test positive for the virus.
Both of our governments’ past collaboration to eliminate polio, reduce hepatitis C infection rates, and stop the spread of avian influenza is a testament to our joint commitment and capability to support the health of every Egyptian in the fight against deadly infectious diseases.
AO: How will Egypt's efforts to attain the sustainable development goals be impacted by the current crisis? How can Egypt alleviate the negative impacts caused by COVID-19 in this regard?
SC: Several initiatives, including the Egyptian Government’s efforts to fast-track digitalization, improve citizen access to services, and coordinate across ministries and sectors to support vulnerable groups, should continue to advance Egypt’s ratings in the sustainable development goals and alleviate negative impacts caused by COVID-19.
AO: USAID has worked in Egypt for 40 years. Based on this history, how do you think Egypt will overcome this crisis and its harsh impacts on the economy?
SC: Since 1978, the U.S. government and people through the U.S. Agency for International Development have provided over $30 billion for programs in education, health, economic development, and democracy and governance.
These sustained programs have helped strengthen the Egyptian economy and social fabric and enabled it to be more resilient. Many of the systems now in place will help Egypt overcome this crisis, such as a strong monitoring and evaluation system that allows the Ministry of Planning to monitor the public investment needs at the central and local levels.
Another example is the government’s program-based budgeting approach that provides a more flexible and responsive method to budget for programs that meet the fiscal requirements of the different sectors and stakeholders in the Egyptian economy.
We will continue to support the government and private sector as they adapt to economic shifts related to COVID-19.
AO: What impact do you think the progress made in Egypt's economic reform program (adopted in November 2016) will have in backing Egypt in its fight against COVID-19’s impacts?
SC: We understand the Ministry of Finance is analyzing the impacts of COVID-19. We look forward to the analysis and stand ready to continue our coordination with the Government of Egypt’s response to this global pandemic.
AO: Does the threat of COVID-19 affect USAID's plans and projects in Egypt over the coming period? Could this crisis force USAID to increase or decrease activities or funding for Egypt?
SC: The United States government is committed to continuing to support the government and people of Egypt during this crisis. This partnership is important to U.S. foreign policy and to the American people and we will continue the forward movement of impactful programs that are fully in line with Egyptian government priorities.
AO: What is the importance of global integrated cooperation in overcoming the crisis and its aftermath?
SC: The United States Embassy in Egypt through USAID coordinates with the Egyptian Government, other donors and development partners, and the private sector to maximize impact of investments and ensure sustainability.
All of our programming is fully in line with Egypt’s Vision 2030, Egypt’s Constitution, and the Sustainable Development Goals. We also partner extensively with the private sector to leverage their networks, expertise, and economic investments to spur inclusive growth.