Obama Budget 2014: Deadly Diseases Could Rise Due to Global Health Cuts

The sequester brought waves of fear and panic across a multitude of industries, including most recently, the global health sector. In the latest defense, InterAction, a Washington based assemblage of international NGOs, released a detailed report on the significant harm budget cuts would cause to the progress defending against many lethal diseases. InterAction also warns that an abrupt halt to the treatment of such diseases could lead to a worsening of health threats, particularly surrounding malaria and tuberculosis.

The U.S. stands as the primary donor to a variety of global health causes, providing great outreach and picking up slack that other countries unfortunately could not carry during the 2008 crisis. Not only does this funding save and improve millions of lives — over 5 million people living with AIDS received treatment — but such progress has helped thwart the spread of multiple diseases, protecting future generations.

The total projected global health cut for this fiscal year is $443 million dollars. To put U.S. aid into perspective, foreign aid generally only represents 1% of the U.S. budget, with global health aid representing a tenth of that 1%. Global aid is hardly burning a significant hole in the U.S. budget’s pocket. Health care certainly needs reform, but it is amazing how much value the world receives out of properly used global health donations. Saving lives, eradicating diseases and continuing disease research hardly seems worth slashing when it not only represents such a minor portion of our budget but also at such a crucial time in progress. Fighting antibiotic resistant strains of tuberculosis and the near eradication of polio are both at high risk. Halting treatment only increases the chances of a surge of stronger forms of such diseases.

Some may argue this money should be the first on the chopping block as it is not going to U.S. citizens directly, but that presents a limited picture of how far disease prevention affects us, regardless of where we live. Global health is a U.S. concern, just as it should remain a concern for all countries as travelers and mosquitoes constantly cross borders. Germs and viruses are not discerning about their travel.

Unfortunately, in such cases, the locally sourced aid tends to be cut first over international donors. Successful implementation of aid requires an understanding of local needs and cultures, which is why locally sourced aid tends to be the most successful. Blindly sending money will not help without proper implementation, highlighting all the more reason why it is important to focus more on combining successful internally based initiatives with external funding.

In hopes of offsetting the cuts, the Global Fund is launching a significant fundraising goal for $15 billion, with the hopes of preventing a million new HIV infections and treating over 6 million people infected with TB. While the verdict on funding cuts is still out, hopefully the fundraising efforts can combat some of the damage.

The investment in global health is crucial for the future of disease management, particularly in the fight against tuberculosis, malaria and Aids. While the burden of the sequester should be shouldered by all areas, this cut to such a minor portion of the budget does not seem worth the risk in the incredible progress we’ve made, especially with the cost of dramatic consequences for our future health.

As Mark Dybu, head of the financing organization Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, emphasizes, the consequences are grave: “We have a choice: We can invest now or pay forever.”