USAID restricts developing countries' use of COVID-19 funding for purchases of medical masks, gloves and ventilators

A shipment of personal protective equipment from USAID on 6 March in Kathmandu, Nepal. (US State Department)

In yet another move that reflects the increased politicization of the COVID-19 emergency, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has sharply restricted use of its aid to purchase medical masks, gloves and respirators - critical to protecting health workers and saving the lives of seriously ill coronavirus patients, the New Humanitarian has learned.

Vital protective gear (PPE) and ventilators may no longer be purchased with USAID funding, without specific agency approval, according to the new directive.

Why does this matter. As one of the world’s largest international donors to health systems in developing countries, the restriction blocks supply chains as the pandemic continues its march, more slowly, albeit steadily, through the Middle East, South-East Asia and Africa, where displaced people’s camps and conflict zones, such northern Nigeria are particularly vulnerable.

WHO and other donors, such as the Jack Ma Foundation, have shipped huge quantities of PPE to Africa over the past two months; but frontline healthworkers still report a chronic shortage of supplies — which are also vital to protection from other deadly infectious diseases, such as Ebola.

Officials at Geneva-based NGOs told TNH that while aid agencies may be able to shif funding from other donors, the United States is the dominant donor to some of the world’s most conflict-ridden and impoverished countries, such as Afghanistan and Haiti, so “wiggle room” is limited.

As one global health specialist familiar with USAID told TNH: “It’s just political nonsense. ... I think it’s because they’re afraid of Trump’s fan base saying, ‘we’re short of PPE, why are we giving it to foreigners?’”.


The New Humanitarian - US adds restriction on foreign aid funding for Covid-19 medical supplies