By Hope O'Brien (Friday, Apr 15, 2011)
The federal budget battle is not yet over, and global health funding is in jeopardy.
In previous posts on January 28 and February 15, I urged you to make your Senators aware that global health funding is a priority to you. Budget cuts for critical health programs – even short term – will have disastrous long term consequences. Cutting too deeply would hamper our ability to prevent or cure illness and to support the health and wellbeing of the millions who depend on sustained funding. Thanks in part to the advocacy of people like you, the cuts to international development for the rest of this fiscal year were less drastic than many feared.
The fight is not over, and the discussion over the past months demonstrates that many politicians consider global health programs to be expendable. Although global health funding may not be drastically reduced in the short term, these essential programs are under serious threat in the coming year (FY2012).
For this year’s annual Global Health Week of Action (May 1-7, 2011), let’s make sure that DC knows that health professionals see that global health funding is critical – to protect the right to health, to advance international development and security, and to avoid needless suffering and death.
Next week, I’ll share the materials for the Global Health Week of Action. I’ll also launch an exciting new resource so that you can plan your own educational or advocacy inititative.
US leadership is crucial to improving health
For over 100 years, America has been a leader in the efforts to improve global health. The US supports the Millennium Development Goals, which means reducing deaths in children less than five years of age by two-thirds, lowering the maternal mortality rate by 7%, and halting the HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics. This has been a nonpartisan issue for years. Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the U.S. government has joined other nations to innovate, lead, and fund health programs worldwide.
There is much to be proud of. As a result of U.S. leadership on global health, the world’s most vulnerable communities are reaping extraordinary health dividends. With America at the forefront of the global AIDS response, the number of AIDS deaths has declined by almost a quarter over the last decade, while the number of new HIV infections has fallen by a comparable amount. In part due to America’s considerable investments in malaria control, global production of insecticide-treated bed nets has risen five-fold since 2004, and the number of households regularly using bed nets for malaria prevention has increased more than 40-fold in some African countries. U.S. support has also proved vital to achieving recent improvements in TB case detection and treatment rates and reductions in overall global TB burden, accomplishments that have effectively halted what was only recently an out-of-control growth in new TB cases.
U.S. leadership has been especially critical in promoting the health and wellbeing of women and children. Since 1990, the childhood mortality rate has fallen by nearly 30%. Due in part to U.S. support for health systems strengthening in low-income countries, the number of maternal deaths decreased by 34 percent from 1990 to 2008, even as the population of reproductive-aged women increased.
Don’t jeopardize fragile gains: maintain or expand global health funding
In short, the world is within reach of achieving one of the most important of all global goals—sharply reducing health inequities. Yet recent gains are exceedingly fragile, and the drastic cuts in global health funding that have been proposed place the advances of the last two decades in grave peril.
As Michael Gerson, a former advisor to President George Bush in the creation of the President’s Malaria Initiative, says in a recent Washington Post article,
Global health programs are not analogous to many other categories of federal spending, such as job training programs or support for public television. A child either receives malaria treatment or does not. The resulting risk of death is quantifiable. The outcome of returning to 2008 spending levels, as Republicans propose, is predictable. Fiscal conservatives tend to justify these reductions as shared sacrifice. But not all sacrifices are shared equally. Some get a pay freeze. Some get a benefit adjustment. Others get a fever and a small coffin. This is not fiscal prudence. It is the prioritization of the most problematic spending cuts — a disproportionate emphasis on the least justifiable reductions. One can be a budget cutter and still take exception to cuts at the expense of the most vulnerable people on earth. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron is pursuing even greater austerity while increasing funding for development.
Although the need for fiscal restraint has placed policymakers in a difficult position, proposed cuts in global health programs would contribute very little to deficit reduction.
International affairs constitutes only about 1% of the federal budget, with health assistance representing only a fraction of the larger account for foreign assistance. These eminently affordable investments are humanitarian, diplomatic, and economically sound, as they enable people to continue working and reduce the likelihood of disease transmission, thereby averting substantial future health care costs.
Join PHR in May for the Global Health Week of Action. Ensure that the lives of the most vulnerable are not placed in even greater jeopardy.