On Friday, Politico examined some of the unintended consequences abroad as President Donald Trump’s administration has scrambled to buy up personal protective equipment and remedy domestic shortages.
“President Donald Trump’s administration stands accused of effectively hijacking shipments of masks and additional crucial supplies meant for other countries, including U.S. allies, and strong-arming private firms to prioritize America over other parts of the world,” wrote Nahal Toolsi. “Developing countries, where Covid-19 has yet to fully wreak havoc, are terrified of being left behind in the race for personal protective equipment, or PPE, and other materials because they cannot match the purchasing power of the U.S. and other wealthy countries.”
Already there have been several incidents of the United States intercepting supplies meant for other countries. In one case, a shipment of masks going to France from China instead was diverted to the U.S. after officials offered triple the going price.
The report continued: “Independent aid organizations that cater to the neediest corners of the globe are finding themselves competing for attention from medical goods manufacturers. The Trump administration has even asked aid groups to share those supplies with the U.S. government, in a bizarre reversal of the usual dynamic between the world’s leading power and those it typically helps. ‘It’s ‘Lord of the Flies: PPE Edition’,’ said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former U.S. official who specializes in disaster response. ‘We need some global solidarity, and instead we have global competition.'”
Part of the challenge is that the virus is global. If developed countries like the United States so thoroughly outbid the developing world for equipment that the virus can spread unchecked in those countries, it could easily find its way back to parts of the developed world that eradicated it.
“Some inside the Trump administration are keenly aware of the risks,” wrote Toolsi. “In a strategy document obtained by POLITICO and crafted by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. officials argue that mitigating the virus in poorer countries ‘is critical for the safety and security of the American people.’ Failing to do so could derail U.S. efforts to help other countries become more financially sound and independent, they add.”
“There is mounting evidence that the critical shortages of surgical masks and other personal protective equipment are being exacerbated by the unregulated export of such medical supplies from the United States,” wrote Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a recent letter to Vice President Mike Pence, a major official on the coronavirus task force.
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