Since Monday, Donald Trump and his campaign surrogates have issued a series of statements demanding that the Clinton Foundation close its doors, and return its donations. In addition to drawing blood from his political rival, Trump's latest cry for attention perfectly fits into his narrative of a rigged political system shortchanging real Americans. To most Americans following this election cycle, the Clinton Foundation has represented an enigma onto which pundits can express their love, hatred, or ambivalence towards Hillary Clinton. But as a medical student who has extensively researched global health issues, it is clear to me that this organization deserves a more meaningful conversation, weighing the impact it has on the millions of lives it helps everyday against its tangible shortcomings.
I first heard about the Clinton Foundation not from the talking heads of cable television, but instead inside of a classroom in graduate school, while taking a course on applying cost-effectiveness analysis studies in healthcare. Working in groups of three, our final project was to conduct a study of our own, comparing a set of health interventions to address a disease against each other - based on how well they tended to work, and their cost. My team focused on assessing treatment strategies intended to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV in South Africa. Each strategy involved varying degrees of diagnostic testing during pregnancy, and the provision of antiretroviral drugs to all pregnant women who tested positive for HIV. The prices for the necessary drugs used in these interventions were negotiated by an affiliate of the Clinton Foundation called the Clinton Health Access Initiative, or CHAI.
CHAI's role in this case wasn't one of a typical charity, in which money is collected and distributed to worthy causes. Instead, it acted as a facilitator, working with governments and pharmaceutical companies to strike a fair price for the people who depend on antiretroviral drug therapies to treat their HIV. If it were not for CHAI and its collaboration with a range of stakeholders, the results of our analysis would have wildly changed, and kept important medications needed to halt HIV epidemics financially out of reach for local governments. The Clinton Foundation's work literally changed the calculus of tackling an issue as formidable as an HIV/AIDS epidemic spread across a continent; today, its efforts facilitate HIV drug treatments for over eleven million people in the developing world.
This is a story which often repeats itself across the Clinton Foundation and its work in global health, climate change, and promoting girls' education, among other causes - of networking with private and public sector actors, and infusing technical expertise, to face complex challenges. Within an organization of its scope, there will undoubtedly be issues of transparency which merit discussion. But to casually suggest that a foundation which so deeply touches the lives of millions should close its doors is a privileged and myopic claim to make.
Perhaps what is most frightening about these latest statements made by the Trump campaign is the chord it has struck among so many. Those who tepidly agree with Trump have converged onto the idea that donors with altruistic intentions can pick another charity or foundation to support "for the next four or eight years," but this solution is incredibly naïve, and neglects the Clinton Foundation's unique role among stakeholders addressing issues in areas like global health today. I challenge anyone to find another foundation that works across a multitude of issues, and has built strong relationships with a range of public and private sector actors driven by a mission of pragmatism.
Make no mistake, Hillary Clinton and her campaign have questions to answer when it comes to conflicts of interest entangled within her tenure as our nation's chief diplomat. Trump's solution to this concern, however, is not a sensible one. In an election cycle this morbid, organizations like the Clinton Foundation do the work of projecting a positive image of the United States to many corners of the globe. Rather than shut down it, we need more organizations like it - ones which value inventing out-of-the-box solutions for helping those in need.