Nun seeks pandemic relief for Africa

January 18, 2022

The pandemic is raging around the world, and we owe it to one another to do our part to stop it. President Biden’s announcement that the United States has donated more vaccines abroad than any other nation is something to be proud of, but it isn’t enough.

Due to the COVID-19 Delta variant and limited vaccine supply, illnesses and deaths are spiraling out of control in Africa.

The news reports from the continent are horrific, but they shouldn’t be surprising. Less than 8 percent of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.

Yet, more vaccine doses alone cannot adequately address this problem. Recently, the World Health Organization said that a shortage of syringes in Africa is a major obstacle to the vaccination effort throughout the continent. As Dr. Moeti, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Africa, put it, “Drastic measures must be taken to boost syringe production, fast. Countless African lives depend on it.”

Fortunately, without incurring debt or having to raise taxes, there’s something we can do to help. 

I’m proud to be part of a nationwide coalition of faith leaders, humanitarian organizations and economists who are stepping up to save lives in Africa and other lower-income countries across the world. Specifically, we are calling on Congress to authorize the International Monetary Fund to send pandemic relief to struggling nations.

Earlier this year, the IMF sent $650 billion in a reserve asset called Special Drawing Rights or SDRs to help lower-income countries buy vaccines, purchase medical supplies, and improve and expand health care facilities. Due to the vastness of the crisis in certain parts of the world, it is evident that more help will be needed.

During the UN General Assembly in September, African leaders called for an additional allocation of SDRs to aid pandemic response and economic recovery. We should offer a helping hand.

Undoubtedly, Sens. Coons and Carper are carrying a heavy load right now as they work to advance the Build Back Better Act and ensure it reflects the needs of our state. But they both have a track record of being responsive to constituents on the important issues of the day – and they understand how it’s in our national interest to help people abroad who need our support.

With the help of our senators, we can save countless lives and bring new hope to the many people who are suffering from the ravages of the virus. The people of Delaware are compassionate. Rarely do we have the ability to help so many at such little cost.

As a Franciscan nun, I am called to speak out because the Gospels remind me that we are all brothers and sisters. People in the United States have no greater or lesser worth than people in Africa.

Each one of us is unique and precious.

As a registered nurse, I know it has been traumatic for many U.S. healthcare workers to treat patients during the pandemic – even though we usually have the medical equipment we need. I cannot imagine how helpless healthcare workers in Africa must feel when they have to send away a person needing treatment or asking for a vaccine when their healthcare facility lacks hospital rooms or medical necessities like syringes.

It is reported that throughout the pandemic, hospitals in Africa have been forced to turn away desperate patients. How can we allow that to continue when we are in a position to offer a helping hand?  We cannot let this cry for help fall on deaf ears.

Sister Elise Betz
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