Trump’s biggest impact: Global health financing

I am writing from the state of Chiapas in Southern Mexico while recovering from what doctors told me was most likely a case of Zika. The first case of Zika in the United States occurred almost one year ago, and CDC Director Tom Frieden acknowledges that limited funding contributed to the rapid spread of the virus. If the U.S. government is to deliver on common sense effective global health programs, leadership on the issue must come from our next president.
A little over a year ago, I traveled with a group of student activists from Boston to New Hampshire to drive global heath financing onto the radar of the then-presidential candidates speaking at a conference on nonpartisan policy reform. In a crowded assembly hall, I asked then candidate Donald Trump to commit to increase funding for AIDS treatment globally as president. Trump gave a characteristically vague but encouraging response. His response was far less promising than those other student activists garnered from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Lindsey Graham.

{mosads}Now, President-elect Trump faces pressure to fill in his campaign rhetoric on nearly every issue and reassess some of his few but obscure specific promises. In the midst of this, his response to my question, that “We’re going to lead the way on [global HIV/AIDS treatment],” must not be forgotten. 9.5 million people worldwide receive lifesaving antiretroviral treatment funded by PEPFAR, a State Department initiative started by President George W. Bush and expanded under President Obama. That treatment, future efforts to support the 19.8 million people suffering from HIV/AIDS without treatment, and prevention efforts to halt transmission will soon be largely in the hands of a President Trump. These prevented deaths in turn prevent unnecessary orphanages and allow more healthy people to contribute to growing economies.

The worries do not end with HIV/AIDS. A U.S. court recently denied a class-action lawsuit calling for the United Nations to pay reparations for the devastating cholera outbreak almost certainly brought to Haiti by UN peacekeepers. Tuberculosis’ recent surpassing of HIV/AIDS as the leading infectious killer globally has not been met with anything close to equal funding for relief. One would be hard-pressed to find a policy issue that has a greater impact on more lives than global health financing, yet the topic has not broken through the white noise of the election and post-election coverage.

Robust global health programs may not seem to have a place in an “America first” Trump foreign policy. Yet people living in countries receiving support from PEPFAR have drastically more significant decreases in violence, increases in political stability, and overall higher opinions of the U.S. than non-PEPFAR receiving countries. Terrorist sentiments have never spread widely outside of settings of economic despair. Effective health system strengthening can play a meaningful role as an antidote to that despair. 

As Secretary Clinton asserted continually during the election, Trump’s controversial business background has not included fervent dedication to “the public good” or altruism of any kind. Nevertheless, when Chuck Todd questioned Trump about his domestic health care plans in February, Trump repeatedly insisted, “If I’m president, we’re not going to have people dying on the streets.” Now that Trump is encountering a great deal of societal expectations to take moral responsibility, I think and hope that for the first time, he might just do so. If U.S. interests are supported, albeit indirectly, why should it matter in what country those streets are?

After a few uncomfortable days of fever and nausea, I am feeling just fine due to the medical attention of doctors at the Partners In Health affiliated clinic where I was stationed. This triviality is not common for those lacking ready access to high quality health care. President-elect Trump will soon have the opportunity to plan America’s return to greatness. For the security and health of our nation and the world, American leadership in global health will be an indispensable part of the overall prescription.

Nick Seymour is a Junior studying at Harvard College. His question to Donald Trump was referenced in the New York Times, NPR and the medical journal The Lancet.

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

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio

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