U.S.-Mozambique health partnership strengthens COVID-19 response

As published in the May 13, 2020 edition of O País.

Dennis Walter Hearne, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1985.
Dennis Walter Hearne, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1985.

By Dennis W. Hearne, U.S. Ambassador to Mozambique

As countries around the world struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Government is gratified to see the early and ongoing response by the Government of the Republic of Mozambique. A robust public health approach has never been more urgent.

Our two countries’ longtime health partnership has helped Mozambique prepare for this critical moment in history. Our commitment to improving the health of the Mozambican people began in the mid-1990s via the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), grew dramatically in 2004 with the arrival of PEPFAR — the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — and has since expanded into areas such as malaria and tuberculosis.

The U.S. Government, through USAID, PEPFAR, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others, coordinates these essential programs with Mozambique’s Ministry of Health, the National Institute of Health, the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Action, and the National Council to Combat AIDS.

This strong and longstanding collaboration between the United States and Mozambique is a natural foundation on which the Mozambican Government is building its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’d like to highlight three key blocks in that foundation:
First, Mozambique is better positioned than ever to make evidence-based decisions about health challenges, thanks to the testing and tracking systems developed through our collaboration. U.S. Government funding and technical support have improved Mozambique’s laboratories and built programs to track the HIV/AIDS epidemic and test for infections, viruses, and other diseases. Today, these systems play a major role in the fight against COVID-19. An electronic data system that gathers health information across Mozambique – from the national level down to an individual health facility built for HIV patients – can also be used for COVID-19. These testing and tracking systems are essential for developing an effective, data-driven response to the pandemic.

Second, Mozambique’s medical systems and personnel are now more capable of a flexible and speedy response to COVID-19. U.S. Government investments and programs helped build this capability by training medical professionals, supplying hospitals and health facilities with essential equipment and medicines, plus supporting systems that allow quality service provision. Today, these training, equipment, and underlying system improvements are vital in the fight against COVID-19. Medical personnel can quickly identify cases and provide care thanks to the infrastructure already in place. Programs can quickly redirect supplies and resources to where they’re needed most. For example, tents previously used for voluntary male medical circumcision as part of HIV/AIDS prevention are now being used for COVID-19 health services in the provinces of Sofala, Gaza, Maputo, and Maputo City.

Finally, one of the most critical parts of an effective COVID-19 response is education. Together, the United States and Mozambique have significant experience informing the public about prevention and treatment for serious health concerns like HIV/AIDS and malaria. The Mozambican Government is now deploying essential information about COVID-19 via social media, radio, and television, based on health guidance developed by the U.S. Government. These messages and animated graphics give simple, clear explanations about prevention, social distancing, and myths vs. facts.

Looking ahead, political and health leaders must aggressively confront misinformation and provide a steady stream of facts and guidance about COVID-19 through popular channels. Vigilance is needed to ensure public communications are used for the public good.

U.S. investments in Mozambique — more than $3.8 billion in health assistance and nearly $6 billion overall during the past two decades – have helped save lives and strengthen Mozambique infrastructure. For the COVID-19 response, additional U.S. funds of nearly $9 million will support education campaigns, health facilities, and COVID-19 detection and testing. Of course, our partnership is about much more than the funding – it’s about building a Mozambique that is strong, prosperous, and healthy.

In addition to our bilateral support, the U.S Mission in Mozambique is pleased to participate in and support the work of the newly established International Community COVID-19 Task Force, which will coordinate closely with Mozambican Government ministries in the weeks and months ahead. Our Mission will also work closely with private sector companies and entities wishing to play a direct role in supporting Mozambique at this critical time.

The United States is proud to stand side by side with Mozambique in this historic challenge. And I know that when we look back someday, when COVID-19 is relegated to the medical and history books, this enduring partnership will remain a source of strength and goodwill for our two great nations. Until then, please stay safe, and stay healthy.

Estamos juntos.