With over 33 million people living with HIV worldwide and 60% who remain without access to anti-retroviral treatment, it is quite disheartening and disappointing to hear public statements made by aspiring presidential candidates over the potential gains of a reduced foreign aid budget or worse even, a “Zero-Aid Strategy.” In the midst of a blind race for public support and for an outward image of a nation-savior, politicians have, unsurprisingly, exploited Americans’ misperceptions of US foreign aid and of its real budget.
In a recent poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org/Knowledge Networks, results have shown that most Americans are unaware of the real amount devoted to funding Foreign Assistance programs:
- The median estimate of “how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid” was 25 percent
- 10 percent was the median response of “how much they thought would be an appropriate percentage.”
Let’s look at the real numbers! Most Americans are shocked and in complete disbelief when discovering that less than 1% of US federal budget is committed to programs that address large-scale issues including poverty, famine, disaster relief, and epidemics such as AIDS/HIV. Even
President Obama’s proposal for the 2012 federal budget –also much disparaged by his republican opponents- only devotes 0.78% of the total budget to humanitarian assistance and development programs. (See interactive graphic to explore where your tax dollars would go)
The presidential plan would be to provide $47 billion (0.78%) as a budget for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development; that may look like a large dollar number but if you look closer, you’ll be surprised. Only 18.54% of the total State Department and USAID budget are devoted to global health and Child survival programs. Where does the rest of the money go? Well, 3.6% is dedicated to USDA Food for Peace; the remaining is allocated to different programs deemed critical to national security which mainly include Non-proliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining, Foreign Military Financing, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement in addition to other State and USAID programs. This is not a novel distribution; it has been maintained under previous administrations for decades. If you think that the distribution is quite confusing, you’re right! Shouldn’t Global health and Food security programs be distinguished from political, military and security goals, and have a distinct and secure funding? I know I do.
But now that we know how much of our federal budget is in reality allocated to global health programs, can we still believe politicians’ promises that cutting foreign aid is the key to balancing our federal budget? Before you answer, make a quick cost-benefit analysis, and you will be completely positive that the answer is …negative.
The deficit-hawk climate we are living through should not shadow our social responsibility and international commitment. We are not at a point where we may simply say “ok, we helped enough! Now let’s concentrate on our economy,” this kind of isolationist attitude will only hurt us in the end as the past has shown.
Yes, annual new HIV infections fell 21% between 1997 and 2010; the number of people dying of AIDS-related causes fell to 1.8 million in 2010, down from a peak of 2.2 million in the mid-2000s; in 2010 alone, 700 000 AIDS-related deaths were averted. These are great achievements for such a small investment, but Secretary Hillary Clinton’s renewed challenge of an Aids-Free Generation and the numbers highlighted by the UNAIDS 2012 Annual Report only tell us that there is much to be done and that any cuts to global health funding will not only be hurting our long-term national interest but will devastate the lives of the 33 million people infected with HIV of which over 50% are women. And let’s remember that we are not the world’s savior, we are a contributor to an international effort where both donor and receiving countries are actively involved. This may be a challenge; but it is also a great opportunity to re-strengthen our commitment to the fight against Global AIDS/HIV pandemic and to an AIDS-Free World.
Question: Are we ready to reclassify foreign aid as a national priority or should we simply settle with having it as a “hot topic” during the current presidential debate (or dare I say: political circus)?
State Department and USAID Budget: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2012/assets/state.pdf
UNAIDS 2011 World Aids Day Report: http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/documents/unaidspublication/2011/JC2216_WorldAIDSday_report_2011_en.pdf