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Allied in the Face of Adversity: United States Aids ASEAN Countries in Combatting COVID-19

ASEAN Indonesia The Mekong Philippines

As the world grapples with the evolving threat posed by the coronavirus disease or COVID-19, the sharing of aid and best practices between countries and regions is more important than ever. There are currently over 880,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and every region is affected. Though combined they currently only make up roughly 1% of the total global confirmed cases, the countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will likely see increases in infection rates over the long term as testing becomes more mainstream.

The United States, which currently has the most cases of COVID-19 in the world, has nonetheless stepped up to help its allies and partners in ASEAN. To date, the United States has provided $18.3 million in humanitarian assistance to countries across ASEAN to combat the pandemic, roughly 6% of the total $274 million in aid it has sent around the world.

As the crisis develops, it has become distressingly apparent that many countries within ASEAN lack the strong healthcare systems and governmental coordination necessary to combat the virus effectively. But thanks to long-term educational exchanges over the last few decades over 1,400 doctors and 1,000 public health professionals across the region have participated in state-of-the-art medical programs at US universities. There is a strong foundation for cooperation on medical emergencies of a global scale.

For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) operates the US President’s Malaria Initiative program with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to combat malaria in the Mekong region along the borders of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Cambodia. In 2011, USAID helped to establish the Southeast Asia One Health (OH) University Network which now boasts a combined network of 72 universities across its four found members, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as Cambodia and Laos. Through these universities, USAID works with local governments to train competent One Health workforces to combat pandemics and apply best practices across medical fields (including veterinary studies) for day to day concerns.

The United States continues to provide aid to individual countries as well. Laos, which currently has the least amount of confirmed cases (i.e. tested cases) in the region has received $2 million in health assistance from the United States, including a visit by six CDC specialists to provide lab training and simulate readiness responses to travelers with the virus at the Wattay International Airport. Additionally, in February, USAID provided the Laos government with personal protective equipment (PPE) including 440 pairs of protective goggles, 1,500 surgical gowns, and 220 face shields.

US allies Thailand and the Philippines, which have the third and second-highest confirmed infection rates in the ASEAN region respectively, have also been provided with PPE equipment and other assistance. Thailand has received over 38,000 PPE items in addition to $1.2 million in health assistance and in-country lab support from the CDC’s team based at the US embassy in Bangkok. The Philippines has received roughly $4 million in health assistance and the US Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is working to provide locally sourced PPE and laboratory equipment.

Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.