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Dr. Orin Levine Headshot

Great Progress But Less Money for Global Health?

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New surveys this week provide an important glimpse into the
minds of Americans in relation to global health, and especially, US government
and individual generosity for global health programs.  The first survey, from the Kaiser Family
Foundation
, provides insights into Americans’ attitudes towards US
government support for global health programs.  The other survey, by World
Vision
, suggests that charities will have a hard time getting donations
from Americans this holiday season in spite of their recognition of the need
and stated preference for gifts that help others.

 

From the Kaiser survey, there appears to be a generally
increasing proportion of Americans who believe that the US government should be
spending more on global health and that the money leads to meaningful changes
in developing countries. Currently, 15 percent believe that we are spending too
little on global health, up from eight percent just five years ago, and in the
most recent survey, 51% think spending more on global health will lead to
meaningful progress, generally. 
This 51% figure is up from only 40% just seven months ago, and may
reflect the recent media blitz by Bill
and Melinda Gates
, the “Impatient Optimists”, to inform the US public about
the value of global health investments by the US government and its citizens. 

 

Not everything from this survey is internally consistent
however.  On the one hand, the KFF
herald the results as indicating a preference of the US public for investments
that strengthen health systems (there was a relatively simple either/or
question to this effect).  However,
when asked about the specific interventions that would be expected to lead to
meaningful progress their responses were very much higher to specific
interventions than they were to general statements.  Childhood vaccinations, for example, led the pack with 83% of respondents indicating that investments in immunization are likely to
produce meaningful improvements in health in developing countries.  While these two views could be consistent
with one another, it seems like Americans remain positive about the use of funds for
known, proven interventions while also acknowledging the value of strong
systems.

 

At the same time a Harris Interactive poll, sponsored by
international relief agency World Vision, indicates that charitable giving from
individuals is likely to drop this year. 
Again, this observation is somewhat inconsistent with the stated
opinions from the same poll that indicate that, rather than a traditional gift,
76% of Americans would prefer to receive a meaningful gift that would help
someone else.  Also 95% of the Americans surveyed go on to say that the focus of the nation over the approaching
holiday period should be helping children.  In short, Americans want to be generous individually but are struggling to make it happen in this economy.

 

While I’m not sure what to make of all the information from
these polls, I can definitely see some key points coming out of them.  First, Americans are basically generous
people who believe that when they give their money for global health– either
taxes or charitable donations – it improves the health of people who need
it.  Second, they generally
recognize the need to do more for needy populations abroad.  Third, they see some specific things
like childhood vaccinations, access to clean water, and education as proven
‘value for money’.  Lastly, they
recognize that right now, while the economy is in bad shape, the need for
assistance is more compelling than ever and yet harder for individual givers to
contribute.

 

So, if you’re one of those Americans who can’t find the
funds to make a charitable donation this year, consider instead sending a note
to your congressional representative or Senator urging them to increase funding
for effective, global health programs like childhood vaccinations,
community-based treatment of infections, and improved nutrition.  It won’t cost you anything but a small
amount of time and, as most Americans agree, it will lead to meaningful
progress in improving health for people in developing countries.