The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have left no region of the world unscathed. Central America and Mexico have certainly felt the wrath of this virus. Recent outbreaks in the region threaten to compound upon other humanitarian struggles. The U.S. has recognized this challenge and taken action to provide aid, despite facing its own issues fighting the coronavirus — the difficulties of COVID-19 in Central America and Mexico are vast.
An Issue in Central America & Mexico Before COVID-19
COVID-19 poses a health and economic challenge to Central America and Mexico. Yet, before the pandemic, the region was already suffering from poverty. As such, the pandemic has hit this area particularly hard. Our World in Data projected that the extreme poverty rate was about 8.12% in Guatemala, 14.24% in Honduras, 2.79% in El Salvador and 1.96% in Mexico in 2019. The full economic impacts of COVID-19 are not yet known.
Apart from facing extreme poverty — Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico also suffer from high crime rates. In 2017, Guatemala had an intentional homicide rate of about 26.1 per 100,000, Honduras had 41.7, El Salvador had 61.8 and Mexico had 24.8.
Providing sustainable assistance to Central America is particularly important for the national security in the U.S. As of July 2019, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition explained that there is a correlation between children seeking refuge in the U.S. and murders in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Aid to these three countries could reduce poverty and crime. Consequently, the number of people searching for safety in the U.S. may potentially decrease.
The US Steps Up
The U.S. has committed to providing more than $22 million for Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The aid focuses on key areas of need. For example, the U.S. committed $850,000 in Migration and Refugee Assistance funding in Mexico. This includes funding for the dissemination of hygiene products and assistance creating a remote program to register asylum seekers and hold interviews.
The U.S. also committed to providing almost $6.6 million in aid to El Salvador, more than $8.4 million to Guatemala and more than $5.4 million to Honduras. Notably, these aid packages contain International Disaster Assistance for each country. The assistance also focuses on immediate and long-term health needs.
In recent months, the U.S. has also provided other forms of support to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Notable aid includes investments in critical infrastructures, such as energy programs. This is an important step in reducing poverty in the region. However, continued aid and investment are necessary to fight COVID-19 in Central America, save lives, reduce poverty and protect U.S. national security.
This aid is a substantial sum targeted in areas that most need money to help fight COVID-19. However, there is more than the U.S. could do to protect global health. Global health spending has remained mostly constant for the past 10 years. Now, the future of U.S. global health aid is at-risk. The federal government’s spending on global health could reduce to its lowest point in 13 years if the proposed budget for the 2021 Fiscal Year receives approval. This could exacerbate outbreaks of other diseases that the U.S. has historically fought against. Without aid from the U.S., other nations such as China will have to step in as a global leader during this crisis.
– Kayleigh Crabb