Human health and planetary health are intertwined
US should take pride in the lifesaving role our foreign aid has provided
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Mark Green often says the purpose of foreign aid is to "end its need to exist," meaning America's development programs have a responsibility to help countries mobilize their own resources on their "journey to self-reliance."
Recently, we saw progress on that front as African nations stepped up to finance health care in their countries. Combined with continued leadership by generous donors, including the U.S., on global health issues, this is an opportunity to save lives and build a healthier world for everyone, including Americans.
At the African Union Heads of State Summit, presidents and prime ministers from across the African continent pledged to increase the amount of domestic resources they allocate for health. They also pledged to build on successes across the continent, applying lessons learned from successes to areas where improvements are still needed.
Increased African resources for health is more than good news; it's essential to achieving a world of global prosperity. Africa is home to 16 percent of the world's population and accounts for 24 percent of the world's disease burden, but receives just 1 percent of global health spending. Furthermore, though important gains have been made in improving life expectancy, the population of Africa is expected to double by 2050.
Proponents and critics alike of U.S. foreign aid have hoped to see recipient countries take ownership of their health programs; building on the strong foundation of lifesaving foreign aid and investing their own domestic resources to help their people achieve health and well-being.
And this is what we're seeing: The U.S. has long been a leader in providing global health funding, through programs like PEPFAR, the President's Malaria Initiative, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Now countries benefiting from our aid are demonstrating a renewed commitment to the same global health goals, helping our dollars go further.
While this commitment to health (and the domestic financing that goes along with it) is an important step for U.S. international aid, it's not reason to pull back our global health funding. In fact, we're at a pivotal moment to maintain strong support for global health.
In the coming months and years, the U.S. and the world have key opportunities to fight deadly diseases and improve health for everyone. America has been a key part of turning the tide against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria by being the largest single donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which has helped save 27 million lives since 2002.
In October, the fund will hold a replenishment - a key chance to save nearly 16 million lives and make even more progress against these diseases (progress that is at risk if funding falls short).
Additionally, progress is also at risk on vaccine-preventable diseases like polio and measles if the U.S. and other countries do not continue to accelerate investments in health through support of the other major health funds like Gavi and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, both of which will also seek addition funds to continue their life-saving work.
In addition to support for multilateral institutions, U.S. funding for health is essential in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, or the Central African Republic - countries that are vital to US national security. In these countries, infrastructure is limited due to conflict and fragility, so foreign aid remains especially critical to ensure people receive the lifesaving support they need.
Without strong U.S. investments in global health, we will backslide and tremendous progress will be lost. We all know diseases move fast and can be across the world in a matter of hours. That's why countries stepping up to strengthen their own health systems also protects our own here in the U.S.
We are in an integral chapter of the development story: countries stepping up to lead, with support from countries like America to catalyze and strengthen their investments. But the key word here is partnership - both parties doing their part to make lasting progress.
As the world's largest investor in global health, the U.S. government should take pride in the lifesaving role our foreign aid has made to millions.
Kate Dodson is the vice president for global health at the United Nations Foundation.