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As COVID-19′s third wave hits Zambia, I fear for my mother and others who can’t get vaccines | Opinion

Zambia’s COVID-19 cases are currently more than double what they were on January 1, 2021, with only about 2% of the country vaccinated.

Mashike Sichinga and Anne-Marie Sichinga at Anne-Marie's graduation in May 2021.
Mashike Sichinga and Anne-Marie Sichinga at Anne-Marie's graduation in May 2021.Read moreAnne-Marie Sichinga

Recently, I’ve been thinking back to the paralyzing fear of COVID-19 that kept me prisoner in the house for months last year. It was a fear that had me afraid to even take walks and pass people on the street. I had such strong anxiety that it kept me up most winter nights. I experienced a hopeless and constant worry of catching or passing the virus. When I remember those months, my heart becomes a well of gratitude, sadness, and frustration.

My life is different now. I started a new job recently. In-person. Your classic 9-to-5. I work independently at my desk with my mask off like all my 30-plus colleagues sharing the space. I sometimes forget to wipe my desk down when a colleague stops by. I am no longer bothered when a few colleagues pull down their masks for me to hear them better. I often eat lunch with a colleague seated at a table less than six feet apart. After all, most of us are vaccinated, so it should be fine, right?

My mother does not seem to think so, and I honestly cannot blame her.

She is in Zambia, which is experiencing a different reality: a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the United States is at a record low of cases compared with the beginning of the year, Zambia’s COVID-19 cases are more than double what they were on Jan. 1, with only about 2% of the country vaccinated.

While my mum is lucky enough to be able to work from home, with such a low vaccine rollout and an even lower possibility for containment since the vast majority of the country can’t afford to shut down, the fear of COVID-19 continues to loom large.

Unfortunately, a similar story can be told of a multitude of developing countries. Although I am grateful for my privilege in being able to live in a country with the resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, I cannot ignore the reality that my family and millions of other people are forced to still live in the paralyzing fear and anxiety that to me is now a strange memory.

If there is anything to be learned from this pandemic, it is that we cannot fight it alone.

That’s why Democratic lawmakers are pushing to add $12 million to the U.S. international affairs budget with specific focuses on global health. In an interview with Borgen magazine, Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said{ “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the United States cannot isolate itself from the world. As we seek to expand access to critical health services for people in the United States, we must also accelerate our efforts to support critical health organizations and join governments around the world in sharing information and best practices on how to effectively address the current pandemic.”

The current international affairs budget received a total of about $62 billion in the FY2021 budget deal, which passed in December, and marks the fourth year that Congress has rejected cuts to the international affairs budget. Mind you, the international affairs budget is only leveraging less than 1% of the overall budget. It’s time to expand the aid we offer to countries like Zambia.

While individually we do not have the resources to provide relief from COVID-19, collectively we have a voice that can make a huge impact. The international affairs budget needs to be protected now more than ever and we all have a role to play by mobilizing our congressional leaders to do just that.

As a global citizen, I am contacting my congressional leaders to protect the international affairs budget, so that my family and millions of people worldwide can hopefully experience the relief that we have in Philadelphia today.

Anne-Marie Sichinga, a recent graduate of Haverford College, is an economist looking to pursue a career in international development policy.