Editor’s note: The US President’s proposed federal government budget for fiscal year 2018 includes disproportionate cuts of nearly 30 percent for the State Department and USAID, and perhaps even more for foreign assistance programs. US funding for these foreign assistance programs is a small—less than one percent of the federal budget—but cost-effective investment that is critical to fighting diseases and conditions that threaten the lives and well-being of millions, promoting peaceful and prosperous societies, and alleviating human suffering through humanitarian assistance.
A version of the following post by Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, published in the Huffington Post on January 20, 2017.
With confirmation hearings under way for many cabinet nominees, US President Donald Trump and his administration are quickly turning to the task of translating campaign promises into policies that will shape the future direction of this nation and the world beyond. One key question is what the “America first” approach articulated by candidate Trump will mean for US-led global health programs that have transformed the lives of billions of people around the world.
In a world rife with daunting global challenges—from civil war in Syria, to ISIS, US relations with Russia, the refugee crisis in Europe, China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, and more—improvements in global health are a bright spot. During the last quarter century, a broad international commitment to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people has reduced the percentage of mothers and children who die from preventable illnesses by half, brought us to the brink of controlling some of the globe’s most deadly diseases, and helped lift hundreds of millions into the middle class.
Never before in human history has so much progress been made in such a short time. American investments in a broad range of global health programs are a major reason why. The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), launched by President George W. Bush in 2005, has played a major role in the 60 percent reduction in malaria deaths since 2000. Thanks in part to the work of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and strong US support for international child immunization programs, nearly 7 million fewer children died last year from treatable illnesses than in 2000.
And because of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), created by President Bush in 2003, 9.5 million men, women, and children in developing countries are receiving lifesaving treatment. One strong proponent of the reauthorization of PEPFAR in 2008 was Vice President Mike Pence, who argued that “the United States has a moral obligation to lead the world in confronting the pandemic of HIV/AIDS.” In his confirmation hearings, Rex Tillerson, now Secretary of State, also praised PEPFAR and acknowledged the important role of USAID, the largest bilateral donor to global health programs in the world.
By fostering healthier, more prosperous communities, these programs create a safer and more secure world. This is fundamental to American global leadership and key to our national interest. But this critical aspect of our foreign policy is often overlooked by those who believe that security primarily depends on military might.
“ In truth, reducing poverty and improving health have done as much to advance American interests by creating a more stable world as any exercise of power, often at a fraction of the cost. ”
If anything, we should consider doing more, not less. Today, technology advances offer new—and often highly cost-effective—opportunities to address once-unsolvable problems. Once-poor nations have the resources to serve as equal partners in the fight to end poverty and eliminate deadly diseases. American companies and research institutions have long been at the forefront of the development of groundbreaking vaccines, treatments, and devices. And leaders from the private and public sectors are exploring new ways to work together to deliver affordable health care innovations that can transform the lives of millions of people around the world.
Together, these trends make this an opportune moment for the US government to strengthen its leadership in research and development in global health and to focus on enabling cross-sector partnerships that focus the knowledge, experience, and expertise of American companies and nonprofits on continuing the progress of the past quarter century. Measured in lives saved and suffering avoided, the moral arguments for doing so are overwhelming.
There are more pragmatic reasons, as well. Today, many of the most pressing global health issues are not problems for poor nations alone. We are as much at risk from the impact of epidemics such as Ebola or Zika as any other country. And in the years ahead, the biggest threat to global health will come from chronic noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, and heart disease, which are no less a problem here in the US than they are abroad.
Even in this period of uncertainty and polarization, I believe we all still share a few basic beliefs. One is that healthier societies are more stable, more productive, and more secure. Another is that a primary role of government is to do all that it can to ensure that every child is born with a reasonable chance to live a healthy and productive life. Continued American leadership in global health and development is a powerful way to realize both of these beliefs—here and abroad. I can’t imagine a more effective way to put America first than this.