COVID-19: Learning from Past Funding Initiatives and their Dismissal in Southeast Asia
Keywords:philanthropy, development aid, emerging infectious diseases, EIDS, COVID-19, pandemic, Southeast Asia, China
This article examines philanthropic funding of past efforts to control emerging infectious diseases in Southeast Asia and China. The recount, based on personal insights as a foundation professional and a review of both published and unpublished material, shows that American foundations and other like-minded donors identified the risks associated with zoonotic infections early on – including from the same coronavirus family that is causing the current COVID-19 pandemic – and were later followed by bilateral and multilateral donors investing greater resources. At the cusp of the 2000s, foundations played a leadership and catalyst role in advancing a transdisciplinary agenda to better understand and respond to new emerging threats and in building the necessary individual and institutional capacities for regional and local disease surveillance. For more than a decade, this concentration of resources and approaches was recognised as having contributed to better preparedness. Gradually, however, funding initiatives declined in value and intensity due to several internal and external factors. This article argues that COVID-19 arrives in the midst of an unfinished donor agenda and that it is important to reflect on why philanthropic foundations, and the development aid community more generally, found themselves unprepared for the pandemic in order to draw lessons for addressing today’s crisis – and future outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases.
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