Some members of the Global AIDS community collectively criticized President Obama yesterday—World AIDS Day—for their perception of his insufficient action on the AIDS crisis. He received a D+ overall for, among other things, failing to provide the $1 billion a year for HIV/AIDS that he promised in his campaign. The Obama Administration has also received criticism for the recently announced Global Health Initiative because the $63 billion promised over the next six years for global health is about $32 billion less than what a similar group of advocates estimate to be sufficient.*
This criticism about funding comes at a time when the global health community is debating whether too much is spent on AIDS, when other large killers such as diarrhea and pneumonia can be treated at a much lower cost. Some argue that investing too heavily in any one health area can create missed opportunities for synergies in treating disease. However, integrating programs is one place where Obama seems to be getting it right. According to the report card he was given from the AIDS community, he is effectively promoting comprehensive prevention programs by ending funding restrictions on family planning.
The Obama Administration should continue to recognize opportunities for integration and efficiency in their global health strategy going forward. Funding for global health problems doesn’t always have to be a zero sum game; controlling neglected tropical diseases is a perfect example. Spending 50 cents to treat a girl for schistosomaisis also means spending money to help prevent a risk factor for HIV. Parasitic NTDs can place immense burdens on an individual’s immune system; people free of NTDs will have an easier time resisting and/or managing HIV and other infectious diseases.
The debate on global health funding can also be seen as a part of a much larger debate on development and how to best help the world’s poor. Nicholas Kristof writes about this debate in one of his recent columns. One of his conclusions is that although there is still a debate on how development aid should be spent—or if it should be spent at all—there are certain interventions that are beyond this debate. He argues that deworming is one of them—a cheap and effective way to make children bigger, healthier, and smarter. In other words, without infinite funds for global health, the debate about how to prioritize funds will rage on. But interventions that improve disease outcomes overall, such as deworming, vitamin A supplements, and improved sanitation, are “no brainers”.
As global health advocates, we must push on long after the buzz and ribbons of World AIDS Day have come down. And as we do so, let’s think about ways in which we can encourage the President and Congress to do more for all global health accounts—particularly those interventions with proven, low-cost solutions.
-By Samantha Austin, Global Network Intern
*The views expressed by these groups are not necessarily the views shared by the Global Network.