U.S. State Department Seeks Help From Foreign Aid Recipients For Scarce Medical Supplies

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the White House on March 20, 2020.
President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the White House on March 20, 2020.
Photo: Getty Images

The U.S. State Department is scrambling to procure medical supplies and equipment from recipients of U.S. aid in Eastern Europe and Asia, according to leaked memos seen by Foreign Policy magazine. The news comes as the entire world struggles with the covid-19 pandemic that has infected over 380,000 and killed over 16,500 globally.

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One email sent by State Department officials over the past weekend instructed U.S. diplomats to seek assistance from nearly every country in Eurasia, “minus Russia,” according to Foreign Policy. It’s not clear why the U.S. isn’t seeking aid from Russia, but it likely involves the New Cold War, a conflict that’s still raging despite our global health crisis.

The memos are an encouraging sign that U.S. officials may be starting to take the pandemic seriously, after President Donald Trump spent the past two months saying the U.S. was more than prepared to tackle the crisis. But we now know the Trump regime was caught flat-footed, as covid-19 threatens to overwhelm the American health care system just as it has in places like Italy and Iran where hundreds are dying every single day.

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How receptive have other countries been to U.S. pleas for help? That part isn’t clear yet, but U.S. officials insist internally that countries struggling with the global pandemic can still be persuaded to assist the U.S.

“The fact that many countries are managing a COVID 19 outbreak should not/not necessarily dissuade posts from approaching host country officials and, as appropriate, the private sector, on this matter as there have been instances where such countries have signaled a readiness to sell the U.S. surplus equipment and supplies,” one of the emails reads.

The leaked memos include specific medical items needed in the U.S. and provide a glimpse into the supplies American hospitals are most desperate to get their hands on. Medical centers have already run out of some personal protective equipment (PPE) and volunteers in Washington state have been constructing their own face masks and shields from supplies they picked up at local craft stores.

Below is the list of things the State Department, under Secretary Mike Pompeo, is trying to acquire from other countries, according to Foreign Policy:

  • Biohazard bags
  • N95 masks
  • Shrouds
  • Gloves
  • Gowns
  • Elastomeric respirators
  • Powered air-purifying respirators and visors
  • Surgical-level masks
  • Tyvek clothing
  • Ventilators
  • Metered dose inhalers
  • Swab kits
  • Protective eyewear
  • Face shields
  • Shoe covers
  • Surgical caps
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Specimen transport bags
  • Sharps containers

American health care workers have warned for weeks that they don’t have enough vital supplies like N95 masks and gloves, though companies like 3M have thankfully started to ramp up production. And the U.S. simply doesn’t have enough ventilators for the wave of sick people that will soon inundate hospitals. New York, the hardest hit state in the U.S. right now, has roughly 5,000 ventilators, but needs maybe 30,000, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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President Trump signaled at a press conference on Monday that he’s prepared to restart the U.S. economy in weeks rather than months, something that’s at odds with the advice of public health experts. But he insists that he’s getting states what they need.

“We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem,” Trump said from the White House on Monday.

Trump tweeted early Tuesday morning about the scramble to get ventilators, claiming that he’s sending 400 of the life-saving machines to New York City. That claim couldn’t be independently verified, of course, and Trump has a very long history of promising one thing and doing the opposite.

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The World market for face masks and ventilators is Crazy,” Trump tweeted.We are helping the states to get equipment, but it is not easy. Just got 400 Ventilators for @NYCMayor Bill de Blasio. Work beginning on 4 hospitals in New York! Millions of different type items coming!”

The U.S. currently has at least 46,450 covid-19 cases and 593 deaths, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. And the next few weeks are expected to get much worse, making the need for medical supplies sourced from foreign countries all the more urgent.

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

Ravenous Sophovore

Meanwhile, Trump wants to end the lockdown which would further overwhelm the health care system due to a higher number of cases more quickly.

I get what’s happening to the economy is going to hurt a lot of people. But speeding up the transmission of COVID-19 is going to literally kill people, both people who get the disease and those who can’t get lifesaving care for other health problems and injuries due to overwhelmed hospitals.