AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF NORTH MACEDONIA
FROM U.S. AMBASSADOR KATE MARIE BYRNES
Here in Europe, in the United States and around the world we are all grappling with fundamental challenges to life as we have known it. The toll COVID-19 is taking, in terms of human lives and in our daily lives—school, work, society, relationships—were nearly unimaginable just six months ago. The people of both our countries, along with those of all other nations touched by this scourge, are joined in mourning for the dead, tending to the ailing, and looking with cautious hope toward the eventual return to normal, everyday life.
I have been touched by the expressions of sympathy I have received here for the victims in my country. Our thoughts are also with those here in North Macedonia who have lost loved ones, and we send our hopes for a swift recovery to those suffering from this virus. And I want to once again commend the work of the government for how it has handled this crisis. The fact is, this situation is new to all of us. We are in uncharted territory. Only by working together—across national borders, party lines and other differences, and collaborating between the private, non-governmental and public sectors—can we hope to successfully arrest the spread of this virus and eventually find a vaccine.
As much as these days have challenged all of us, I continue to see signs of hope and goodness that are also taking place. I take heart from the everyday expressions of empathy all around us: the neighbor who reaches out to the elderly person next door to check in; the emergency responders and healthcare workers who are treating the infected with compassion and care; the store clerk, the truck driver, the pharmacy worker, and so many others who continue going to work so that our lives can continue with as much normalcy as possible in these uncertain times; and so many other examples of simple humanity.
The limitations on life have given me the opportunity to learn new things, including new ways to communicate and connect in a time of social distancing. We miss the ability to meet in person. Instead, our entire embassy team is learning to work remotely, holding our meetings and discussions by videoconference so that we can preserve our connections and continue making new ones. These have not been easy changes for any of us, but we all understand the need for shared sacrifice now both to protect the most vulnerable and to “flatten the curve.”
Alongside other friends and allies, the United States is doing its part to help the government here manage this unprecedented crisis. Last week, I was pleased to announce $1.1 million in grants to the World Health Organization and UNICEF to fight against COVID-19 in North Macedonia. These funds will be used to help prepare national laboratories for large-scale testing, train and equip teams to investigate cases and conduct contact tracing, help implement screening processes at the country’s borders, and enhance outreach to marginalized communities which could be particularly vulnerable if they experienced a large-scale outbreak.
Aid isn’t just coming from our government. U.S. NGOs, private foundations, and universities are some of the most generous providers of help and assistance around the world, and this crisis is no exception. To give just one example, Brown University and Project HOPE just completed an on-line training course on fighting COVID-19 for 40 doctors and nurses from around North Macedonia. These caregivers have taken what they have learned and are training others around the country, helping increase the knowledge and skills of health care providers fighting this disease on the frontlines.
The private sector is stepping up to the challenge as well, with businesses across the country doing what they can to assist those on the front lines of this pandemic. Many have donated funds or personal protective equipment, donated products, altered production lines, or frozen prices. Some, like Google and Apple, have agreed to expedite getting coronavirus-related apps into their apps stores. Others, including KFC, have focused on maintaining the health and well-being of first responders, doctors, and nurses by donating health food and ready to eat meals.
Fortunately, our engagement isn’t something new; it is built on over two decades of U.S. investment in and support for North Macedonia’s health and crisis management systems. During this time, we have provided over $11 million to the health sector, out of more than $730 million in overall assistance. These contributions have included funding the renovation of the national laboratory that is now processing the majority of COVID-19 test results.
There will be considerable work to do once this immediate threat has passed and the United States will remain a steadfast partner after this threat eventually ebbs. My team and I are already thinking about what comes next and what role we can play in helping get things back on course. In the midst of this crisis, your country officially joined NATO and received an invitation to start talks to become a member of the European Union, two achievements you have worked towards for decades. I feel confident we will emerge from this experience stronger, our partnership will be ever deeper, and together we can build on new opportunities to help realize your aspirations for a strong, vibrant, and resilient future.