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These three stories show why foreign aid is worth every penny

June 7, 2017 by Cassie Kobrin

A woman stands facing the camera with her hand on one hip. Her T-shirt has a USAID logo on the front.

Currently, the US $30 billion foreign aid budget accounts for less than 1 percent of the total federal budget—a mere penny for every US dollar. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

The Trump administration’s proposed reductions to foreign aid spending would significantly hinder US contributions to vital international health programs. Here's why.

For 40 years, PATH has worked with the US government, the private sector, and individuals in low-income countries to develop simple and cost-effective health solutions. Support from the US government has been crucial to PATH’s work to disrupt the cycle of poor health. However, the Department of State and the US Agency for International Development (USAID)—our country’s primary foreign aid agencies—saw significant cuts, along with scientific research programs that were funded through the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently, the US $30 billion foreign aid budget accounts for less than 1 percent of the total federal budget—a mere penny for every US dollar. Yet the effects of this penny are seen across communities around the globe.

Here are three stories that clearly show why foreign aid is worth every penny:

1. USAID and PATH: transforming health care and strengthening communities

Two years after her husband’s death, Elizabeth was diagnosed with HIV and put on treatment that she did not take regularly. As a single parent with no source of income to take care of her family, the 49-year-old fell into a deep depression and became bedridden.

It was at this point that Elizabeth met Violet, a community health volunteer with the AIDS, Population and Health Integrated Assistance Zone 1 (APHIAplus Western) Kenya project—the largest integrated health project in East Africa that helps provide a health care continuum to families by expanding services to reduce HIV, improve health, and strengthen communities.

A close-up of a smiling woman.

After the death of her husband, Elizabeth Wayongo was left alone to care for her five children and half-acre farm in Bungoma, Kenya. Photo: PATH/Peter Abwao.

For three months, Violet accompanied Elizabeth to the clinic for support and to pick up nutritional supplements for the whole family through Action Community Empowerment (ACE) Africa—a community-based organization that partners with APHIAplus Western to support orphans and vulnerable children.

Bungoma is one of the counties in Kenya with the highest prevalence of HIV. The program has supported more than 12,300 households like Elizabeth’s and more than 20,200 orphans and vulnerable children in Bungoma alone. Elizabeth represents more than 800,000 women in Kenya whose lives have been transformed through support from APHIAplus Western and other USAID-funded service delivery programs.

2. US Department of Health and Human Services and PATH: meningitis A virtually disappears in vaccinated areas

Edwinge Nana knows the impact that a deadly infection can have on families and communities. She lost her little brother, Charles, to meningitis A.

Today, Edwinge Nana, a 19-year-old girl in Burkina Faso, does not have to worry about herself or anyone living in her village contracting the disease that took her brother. They have all received a vaccine that protects against the disease that, in the last century, killed hundreds of thousands across Burkina Faso and neighboring countries.

A girl looks into the camera as she holds a cotton ball to her arm.

Edwinge Nana holds a cotton ball to her arm after receiving a MenAfriVac® vaccine. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

With early support from the US Department of Health and Human Services, PATH and partners worked to get MenAfriVac® developed and delivered at an affordable price for low-income countries. The vaccine targets the strain of bacterial meningitis that caused deadly epidemics throughout the 18-country African “meningitis belt.” The vaccine’s widespread use has the potential to end the epidemics forever. Launched in 2010, more than 270 million people have been immunized and meningitis A has nearly disappeared in these areas.

3. US Department of Defense and PATH: a trailblazing vaccine against malaria

For more than three decades, US Department of Defense (DoD) researchers have played a key role in the development and testing of malaria vaccines. The DoD-funded Walter Reed Army Institute of Research was an early partner in the development of the RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate in the 1980s. Following the agreement between PATH and GlaxoSmithKline in 2001 to develop RTS,S (also known as Mosquirix™) for use in young children, the DoD again became involved through the Kenya Medical Research Institute/Walter Reed trial site in Kenya—1 of 11 sites across Africa that ran the Phase 3 trial.

A health care worker delivers a vaccine to a child who is being held in another woman's lap.

A health worker in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, administers a vaccine to the first child to be immunized as part of vaccine trials. Photo: PATH/Dave Poland.

In 2009, the first child was immunized in Tanzania at the start of the Phase 3 efficacy and safety trial of RTS,S. In 2016, the vaccine was recommended for pilot implementation by the World Health Organization. As such, RTS,S remains the malaria vaccine most advanced in development globally.

Approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria, with more than 200 million cases occurring every year. Of the estimated 429,000 deaths from malaria in 2015, nearly 90 percent occurred in Africa, and the vast majority were among children younger than five years of age. The Phase 3 trial showed that four doses of RTS,S prevent nearly four in ten cases of malaria in the target age group, indicating that it could help bring down the burden of malaria when used alongside other interventions.

A smart investment

The release of the White House’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget outlined a 32 percent cut to US agencies that provide foreign assistance. These proposed reductions would significantly decrease US contributions to foreign aid, affecting funding of health programs that fight HIV/AIDS, malaria, polio, and more, including a vital emergency food aid program and half of the United States’ contributions to UN peacekeeping.

Funding cuts of this magnitude would hinder the progress we, and so many of our partners, have made in our ability to improve lives around the globe. Furthermore, it would put millions of lives at risk—no doubt those individuals who are already most vulnerable.

PATH joins leading humanitarian, development, and global health organizations in calling upon Congress to sustain the International Affairs budget in FY 2018 as it did for FY 2017.

MenAfriVac is a registered trademark of Serum Institute of India Pvt. Ltd.