CDC Foundation Donors Connect Afghanistan Evacuees to The Public Health System—Additional Support Is Needed

Most people in the United States have a place to call home and a way to be reached, either through an address or phone number. But imagine being new to a country without knowing where you will live or how you will get help when needed. That’s the situation facing evacuees from Afghanistan who are in need of a basic communication tool—a cell phone—to stay connected to key groups who can help. Today, the CDC Foundation and our donors are working to meet that need.

In late August more than 120,000 evacuees left Afghanistan as U.S. forces withdrew from the country. Many of these evacuees, including those who supported U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, are starting their lives over in America. To aid in the transition of these individuals and families, the U.S. government is working with the CDC Foundation and our donors to ensure the evacuees have connections they need into the U.S. public health system.

“Providing cell phones to Afghan arrivals, who may have fled with minimal belongings, allows public health authorities to have reliable communication with evacuees and to provide timely public health information and interventions—critical in this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lisa Rotz, deputy director, CDC Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.

To date, the CDC Foundation has procured more than 10,000 cell phones as well as initial cell service for evacuees who arrived through Dulles International Airport near Washington, DC, and Philadelphia International Airport.

“The Department of Homeland Security is working with public health agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to ensure the arriving Afghan evacuees receive necessary follow-up medical care that may be required after completing the initial entry process,” said Gary Rasicot, assistant secretary (acting), Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “These generous donations may save lives and support the well-being of newly arriving families and individuals.”

According to Turquoise Sidibe, associate vice president for Emergency Response at the CDC Foundation, “These phones provide an important tool for alerting evacuees about health threats. Phones also offer a way for evacuees to not only reach a health department but also to connect with community-based organizations and other organizations that will play essential roles as they begin to resettle—things like setting up medical appointments, enrolling children in school and other important matters. Having a cell phone number is an essential communication tool.”

But putting in place a mechanism to support the provision of cell phones in a dramatically condensed amount of time is challenging—and creates an opportunity for the government sector to come together with individuals, philanthropies and the private sector to fill the gap.

According to Sidibe, “My team has daily calls with CDC and other federal agencies to share situational awareness, discuss strategy on phone procurement and placement and determine if there are any emerging needs where philanthropy can support and add new perspectives.”

While the CDC Foundation has provided initial phones and short-term service, additional phones and extended service are needed to serve newly arriving evacuees.

“Our team is driving to bring in support to fill the gaps that exist for additional phones and service,” said Judy Monroe, MD, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “We’re energized with what our donors have made possible thus far, but much more is needed to provide that vital link for evacuees so that they can keep in touch with family, health officials and medical care as needed.”

The CDC Foundation is honored to help support the health and well-being needs of evacuees as they begin their lives in America, but we are not able to provide assistance without your support. I hope you will join our efforts and support this critical work in action. Together our impact is greater.


Photo of Pierce Nelson
Pierce Nelson is the vice president for communications for the CDC Foundation.