Cutting foreign aid is a mistake — and the consequences will be severe
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As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prepares to discuss the administration’s budget before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the time is ripe to thoughtfully consider the benefits of foreign aid. In particular, life-saving health interventions for mothers and children suffering from diseases that are easily treated or prevented in wealthy countries too often gets overlooked.

We each have our own morals and faiths — mine teaches me to help our fellow man, especially when it’s in our power to do so. That’s why I firmly believe global health assistance should remain a budgetary priority for the United States.

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My daughter AniellaRose is about to turn two, and every day she is growing, thriving and discovering new things. Like many new parents, we’re thrilled and fascinated with every new word and every new step she takes. We give her all we have and can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.

I’ll admit I’ve taken it for granted that my daughter will be healthy, that she will get her vaccines, and that if she has a cold or bout of diarrhea, she will recover. But it’s not an accident that my daughter thrives — she has everything she needs to do so because she was born in the United States. I want every child, no matter where they are born, to have the same opportunity.

Regardless of ideology, I think we can all agree that no child anywhere should die of something as simple as diarrhea. Yet that is the reality for children around the world who don’t have access to the rotavirus vaccine. Others fall victim to malaria, pneumonia and chronic malnutrition. The fact that these deaths are absolutely preventable makes them all the more tragic.

A lot of people may look at foreign assistance and think it’s a waste of money. That’s simply not true. In fact, because of the U.S. commitment to reducing the child mortality rate, an estimated 100 million children have been saved since 1990. Additionally, maternal mortality rates have dropped 44 percent. Our support for measles and polio eradication efforts have rapidly reduced child deaths in even the most remote corners of the planet.

With simple, cost effective interventions — like immunizations; treatment for diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria; and improved sanitation — millions of children are alive today that otherwise wouldn’t be. For more than 200 years, Americans have spoken of their country as a city on a hill — a shining beacon and example to the world. We pride ourselves on being a benevolent hegemon. Our place in the world is indispensable because we don’t seek an expansive empire and dominion — we export freedom, technology, progress and a chance for individuals to make their own lot in life.

The drastic decline in “under five” deaths is one of the most unheralded successes in international development. In 2015 alone, 18 million children under five improved their nutritional intake thanks to support from U.S. programs. Children who get the right nutrition early are 10-times more likely to overcome life-threatening childhood diseases. They are also more likely to achieve higher levels of education. Growing evidence also suggests a strong positive correlation between nutrition and lifetime earnings. Think of the impact — for every dollar invested in nutrition, we see a $16 return. If that’s not a smart, worthwhile investment, I don’t know what is.

By slashing our foreign aid budget, we risk undoing 30 years of remarkable progress. We are at the point of being able to end preventable maternal and child deaths in low-income countries if we wanted to. The treatments are there; it’s just the political will that is missing. Unfortunately, it’s the smallest and most vulnerable — children my daughter’s age — who will pay the price for inaction.

As we prepare to discuss the fiscal year 2018 federal budget, I’d like my colleagues in Congress to focus on how to make vaccines and other life-saving interventions available to more kids in the world. The United States has been a leader in child survival for so many years. Let’s build on that progress and continue being a shining example to the world.

Donovan represents New York’s 11th District and is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.