As you focus your attention on budget cuts, I want you to know this: American foreign aid is working. In my country, Malawi, American aid helped ten thousand more people get access to doctors and clinics last year.
And foreign aid works best when it helps local people take charge of tackling their own problems—supporting them to build a dream, build a business, support their family, or help their community.
As an advocate and the director of the Malawi Health Equity Network, a local non-profit organization, my role is get policymakers in our capital city of Lilongwe to pay attention to the reality citizens face on the ground. We work hard to ensure that Malawi’s national policies and our national budget translate into improved health service delivery throughout our country.
With a small investment from partners like USAID, my organization has successfully advocated for improved health services in communities that previously had none. Last year at least 10,000 more Malawians had access to basic health services as a result of our work. We supported the reopening of maternity wards in several districts and staffing of clinics to help prevent disease & treat patients suffering from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. No one should have to walk 30-40 kilometers to see a nurse.
I see firsthand the health challenges many communities in Malawi face. HIV, funding shortages and an extreme case of brain drain have led to some disturbing statistics. For example, 675 mothers die for every 100,000 babies born according to the Malawi Demographic Health Survey. And there are fears that this number may be even higher, as public health facilities face frequent and prolonged drug stock outs, and erratic fuel scarcity is hampering smooth referrals of serious cases to higher level health care facilities.
No magic wand will make such horrendous statistics go away, and change takes time. But we are hard at work strengthening our health care system, and you and I both have a role to play.
We’ve come a long way in Malawi, but we’ve got a long way to go still. My people and I can protect the health of our citizens. We don’t ask America to do our work for us.  We just want America as a partner in helping us solve these problems. We hope we can continue to count on partners like the US to support us on our journey. By leveraging your country’s tiny investments in Malawi’s future, we will get it done—together. Just look in my eyes and you will see.
Kwataine is the director of the Malawi Health Equity Network, a coalition of local groups working on access to health services and a partner of USAID.