Intel: US touts nearly $40 million in coronavirus aid to Middle East

al-monitor A security officer checks the temperature of a customer as he enters the supermarket before curfew, following the outbreak of coronavirus, in Baghdad, Iraq, March 17, 2020.  Photo by REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily.
Bryant Harris

Bryant Harris

@brykharris_ALM

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Coronavirus

Mar 27, 2020

The United States today touted nearly $40 million in aid to the Middle East and North Africa as part of a $274 million emergency health and humanitarian assistance package to help afflicted countries deal with the coronavirus pandemic. 

The State Department disclosed that a substantial share of that funding — $15.5 million — will benefit Iraq to “help prepare laboratories, implement a public-health emergency plan for points of entry, activate case-finding and event-based surveillance for influenza-like illnesses, and more.”

Additionally, Morocco and Tunisia will each receive roughly $700,000 to prepare laboratories and surveil new infections while supporting “technical experts for response and preparedness” and bolstering “risk communication.” 

Finally, the State Department announced nearly $17 million in humanitarian aid for Syria and another $6 million for Libya.

Why it matters: The United States currently has some 85,600 recorded coronavirus cases, the most of any country in the world. But the pandemic is also spreading throughout the Middle East, particularly in Iran. Iraq reported 382 coronavirus cases, while Morocco reported 275 and Tunisia another 197. There have only been five recorded cases in Syria and one in Libya, but public health experts fear that the wars afflicting both countries and the millions of displaced people could hasten the virus’ spread. 

What’s next: Notably, the State Department did not allocate any emergency health funding for Yemen, another area experts fear could be hard hit by the coronavirus because of the civil war. The United States is cutting the vast majority of its aid to Yemen because the Houthi rebels have placed increasingly stringent restrictions on humanitarian assistance in areas under their control. 

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also penned a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to provide emergency health aid to the West Bank and Gaza. There are more than 3,000 recorded coronavirus cases in Israel, roughly 82 cases in the West Bank and nine cases in Gaza, sparking fears of a rapid spread throughout the enclave.

Know more: Al-Monitor will keep you up to date on the latest COVID-19 developments throughout the region. Omar al-Jaffal has the story on Iraq’s struggle to implement a coronavirus curfew, Simon Speakman Cordall takes a look at what North Africa is doing to prepare for the pandemic, Khaled al-Khateb details the devastating impact it’s set to have on Syria, and Bryant Harris explains why none of this aid is going to Yemen.