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Opinions: U.S. Foreign Aid; Lay Health Workers

U.S. Investment In Development Is Essential      

“The international affairs budget does more than just keep our nation safe – it bolsters our economy by creating jobs here and developing markets for U.S. goods and services overseas. It makes sense: effective development brings stability, economic development and a demand for goods and services,” according to a Politico opinion piece by Reps. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.).

In the piece, directed at first-year members of Congress, they write: “Among the myths about the federal budget, perhaps none is greater than the widespread belief that more than 10 percent is spent on foreign assistance. … [T]he international affairs budget totals less than 1.5 percent of the federal budget. This small investment yields a significant return. In this tough economic climate our constituents are demanding – and we are committed to delivering – efficient programs with tangible results.”

“Standing up for smart power is the right approach to our foreign policy – no matter what your political affiliation. When you are faced with a vote on the international affairs budget, just remember the adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” the conclude (2/17).

Before Going After Foreign Aid, Put Proposed Budget Cuts Into Perspective

“Although belt-tightening is undoubtedly necessary, too many Americans – and members of Congress – think the country’s fiscal problems can be solved by slashing foreign aid,” Micah Zenko and Rebecca Friedman, both of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, write in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece that asserts “a fully funded foreign assistance budget is essential to prevent the political instability and violent conflict that harms American security.”

Zenko and Friedman highlight the “value of diplomacy,” noting the roles the State Department and USAID play in preventing conflict. They also offer two explanations for why “every budget season, the debate over cutting U.S. diplomatic funding returns”: American’s lack of knowledge about “the true costs and benefits of foreign aid,” and “it is far more challenging to prove the impact of new schools, roads or water treatment facilities.”

They conclude: “The budget debate this year will be particularly vitriolic. But as Congress wields its scalpel, it must not gouge the United States’ foreign policy muscle while shaving budgetary fat. Decreasing the deficit is a crucial goal and one with bearing on U.S. national security. But cuts should be put in perspective: Even eliminating all foreign assistance would amount to a mere 1% of the budget, but it would mean immediate and dire consequences for U.S. global influence. That’s no bargain” (2/16).

Budget Reductions Should Not Cut U.S. Global Health Efforts

The proposed budget reductions “were intended to be symbolic, but what do they symbolize? Fiscal responsibility? Hardly. No one can reasonably claim that the budget crisis exists because America spends too much on bed nets and AIDS drugs,” Michael Gerson writes in his Washington Post column. “So, do these cuts symbolize the Republican rejection of fuzzy-headed liberalism? Actually, the main initiatives on malaria and AIDS were created under Republican leadership. They emphasize measured outcomes and accountability. If the goal of House Republicans is to squander the Republican legacy on global health, they are succeeding,” he writes after outlining successful malaria control programs in Africa supported by the U.S.

“Dramatically unequal global development has left one part of the world in possession of technologies and techniques that can save millions of lives in other parts of the world. These interventions are relatively simple and inexpensive – a bed net, a daily pill, a vaccination. Particularly for a nation dedicated to universal human rights, this mortality gap brings responsibilities. It has led America to make commitments on malaria, AIDS and other diseases that should be honored,” according to Gerson. He argues that U.S. aid “demonstrates the kind of nation we have become, and must remain” (2/15).

Successful Models Show Health Care Task-Shifting Can Improve Health, Reduce Costs

In a post on the New York Times’ “Opinionator” blog, Tina Rosenberg, a contributing writer for the paper’s Sunday magazine, writes about two programs in India to illustrate a way to improve health “while bringing down health care costs.”

“The strategy is to move beyond doctors – to take the work of health care and shift down from doctors and nurses to lay people, peers and family. In the United States and other wealthy countries, lay people can fill in the gaps in left by doctors’ care. In poor countries, people with no or little formal medical training are successfully substituting for doctors and nurses,” she writes.

“SEARCH (the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health), in the district of Gadchiroli, and the Comprehensive Rural Health Project, in the district of Jamkhed, both recruit ordinary women to take care of their villages’ health. They have had a huge impact on the health and prosperity of their villages,” according to Rosenberg (2/14).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.