In a troubled world, America continues to set the agenda and save lives
The first budget of the Trump administration came out earlier this week, with some bad news for global health: sweeping cuts are being proposed across the board. In a budget mostly full of government spending cuts, foreign assistance will be taking a large and shocking cut.
Aid from the United States does a tremendous amount of good in the world. American aid buys hundreds of millions of vaccines and immunizes children around the world against deadly diseases. American aid leads in detecting global pandemic diseases, such as Zika, and reducing the likelihood of their spread.
American aid has helped nearly 8 million people to receive better access to clean drinking water, cutting the number of diarrheal disease cases in children. American aid builds roads and expands access to electricity, phone and the Internet, which connects people to the global economy and builds consumer bases for U.S. businesses.
American aid feeds tens of millions of people affected by natural disasters. American aid educates and empowers women and girls around the world. American aid supports the systems that are eradicating polio, and American aid has helped the near total eradication of guinea worm disease, a crippling and extremely painful worm infestation. American aid protect forests in countries where logging is destroying natural habitats. American aid supports governments to develop accountable institutions that can secure the safety of their citizens, and to provide basic social services such as healthcare and classrooms. In short, American aid is helping to end poverty around the world.
One of the most important things American aid does is one of the most basic needs that everyone shares: good nutrition. Lacking access to nutritious food is a huge burden in the world. Nearly half of the children who die each year before their fifth birthday die from malnutrition – that’s over 8,000 every day. In contrast, early nutrition – especially during the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday - supports healthy growth and immune systems, and aids a child’s ability to learn in school and earn a higher income later in life.
The U.S. invests in nutrition across the world, with massive success. Last year alone, 18 million children received help to improve their nutrition. Over $800 million in new agricultural sales were achieved by US-supported producers, and 2.5 million people were trained in child health and nutrition through U.S. Government programs in 2015. In many areas where feed the future works, poverty is on the decline: American aid has helped decrease poverty in Cambodia and Guatemala by a quarter, and in Nepal by over a third. The proportion of children in U.S. Government-supported areas who have suffered stunted growth has also dramatically fallen: stunted growth has fallen nearly a quarter in Cambodia, a third in Honduras, and a whopping 40% in Kenya.
Investments in nutrition are the most cost-effective way to ensure that children everywhere have a chance to survive and thrive. In fact, experts have found nutrition the most critical and economically sound intervention: every dollar spent on nutrition in the 1,000 day window between pregnancy and age two gives a saving of an average $45, and even up to $166, in benefits. Improving nutrition during the 1,000 day window can reduce the loss of 11 percent of GDP caused every year by malnutrition in Africa and Asia. Good nutrition builds the foundation for human health and development and economic growth for entire generations, and should be a top development priority for the US government. A healthy, productive citizenry contributes to a stable society and serves as a reliable trading partner and consumer base for U.S. goods and services. Support for these programs is not just a reflection of American moral character, but it is vital to U.S. economic and strategic interests.
Americans support their money being spent to help the neediest people in the world – the majority of Americans want their country to take the leading role in improving health for people in developing countries. For all the good American aid does in the world, foreign aid forms less than 1 percent of the entire budget. For only 1 percent of U.S. money, America changes the world and quite literally, America saves lives.
Cutting American aid makes no sense. Cutting American aid would mean more children dying for lack of food. It would also mean stunting their growth and in turn, stunting the growth of their futures. Now is the moment to keep the focus to the global injustice of malnutrition, lest we lose the progress we’ve made. Two and a half million children should not die every year for lack of adequate nutrition.