Administrator Samantha Power at the White House COVID-19 Summit: Save Lives Now

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. I’m Samantha Power, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID.

Yesterday morning, I visited the National Mall, where over 600,000 white flags blanket the grass under the shadow of the Washington Monument. Each of those flags represents someone in the United States who died from COVID-19. And a few are inscribed with messages from loved ones coping with their loss. “We love you,” they say. “The light has gone out.” “We miss your smile.” “We’re having a terrible time here without you.” These words of grief are about Americans, but they transcend boundaries, felt by anyone and everyone in the world who has lost a loved one to this pandemic.

This is what it means to Save Lives Now: it means doing all we can to prevent that next flag planted, that next loss felt, that next loved one deeply missed. The previous session focused on the urgent task of vaccinating the world. The bold pledges made today—including the United States’ endorsement of the goal to vaccinate 70 percent of every country in the world by the time the UN General Assembly meets next year—these commitments demonstrate our shared commitment to do just that.

But there remain other critical steps we must take to limit the number of lives this pandemic will claim. Perhaps the most important life-saving single step we could take, alongside providing more vaccines, is to ramp up global access to oxygen. The most important treatment for people hospitalized for COVID-19 might not be a drug or some new miracle cure—but the air they need to breathe. In fact, three-quarters of all hospitalized COVID-19 patients only need supplemental oxygen to survive. But while we may take the availability of oxygen for granted in wealthy countries, even before COVID-19 hit, there wasn’t enough medical oxygen capacity in most lower- and middle-income countries. For months now, the US has spent tens of millions of dollars to deliver oxygen cylinders, concentrators, small onsite generation plants, and bulk liquid oxygen to cover 50 countries in need. We’ve helped train engineers and healthcare workers to put these critical supplies to good use. But the truth is, as vital as this response has been, it’s a piece meal, reactive approach. The only way to sustainably address the oxygen crisis is to strengthen the local oxygen supply chain in partner countries. As a first step, the US plans to provide $50 million to significantly increase access to medical oxygen in partner countries around the world. But because this won’t be enough, we are working to build a coalition not just with governments, but also with foundations, NGOs, and private sector partners, to leverage our investment and coordinate global investment in oxygen access on a much broader scale. This kind of all hands on deck approach - with all of these actors contributing - is what will be needed on all fronts to save lives.

In addition to oxygen, we’re working to make sure frontline health workers around the world have the personal protective equipment they need to protect themselves while treating patients.

The World Health Organization estimates that the manufacturing of PPE must grow by 40 percent to meet the global demand.

The story is similar with COVID-19 diagnostics. While test kits have become common in some high income countries, they are hard to obtain in most of the world. Of the more than 2 billion tests performed worldwide since the COVID-19 pandemic began, only one-to-two percent have been conducted in Africa. We must work together to eliminate this massive testing gap, so that we can break the chain of transmission, slow the spread of the virus, and reduce the burden on health systems everywhere.

I know all of us find ourselves in a similar state—the scale of global need is unprecedented, and we cannot possibly commit all the resources necessary to address the strain of COVID-19 and its secondary impacts. But in a world of competing needs, the flags on the mall remind us just how urgent it is to save lives now.

I thank you, and with that, I’ll turn it over to Rockefeller Foundation President and former USAID Administrator Raj Shah who will lead us in a discussion.

Last updated: September 26, 2022

Share This Page