SEATTLE, Washington — Clearly, global health aid provides benefits to those who receive it; such aid can often be life-saving. But, does health aid provide benefits to those that give it? Namely, does the United States benefit from the money it spends on sending health aid abroad? This question is a salient one, and the answer is yes. Indeed, investing in global health aid benefits the U.S. economy, U.S. foreign relations and counters the spread of infectious disease.
Jobs and the Economy
When the U.S. spends money on international health aid, it usually routes the money through U.S.-based universities, organizations and researchers. Thus, instead of being shipped overseas without touching U.S. institutions and businesses, the U.S. health aid budget generates jobs in the U.S. In 2015, for example, $0.89 cents of every dollar spent on global health R&D went through U.S. stakeholders. This is up from $0.64 cents in 2012. That means that between 2007 and 2015, spending on global health research brought in 200,000 jobs in the United States. In turn, these jobs “created an additional $33 billion in economic output.”
Foreign Affairs and Soft Power
Another way health aid benefits the United States is through enhancing its international standing. One study discovered an association between health aid and the fragility of the recipient country. The authors noted that increases in U.S. health aid associated with decreases in the fragility scores of recipient countries. This is important since fragile states are those that are more likely to experience terrorism and weak governance structures. The United States Institute of Peace stated that “Extremism both preys on fragile states and contributes to chaos, conflict, and coercion that kills innocents, drains U.S. resources, forecloses future market opportunities, weakens our allies and provides openings for our competitors.”
The U.S. also sees a rise in its “soft power”—international influence usually through economic means—due to health aid. A survey of 45 countries that received U.S. health aid showed that the citizens of that country were more likely to view the United States in a “very favorable” light if that country were a recipient of U.S. health aid. More specifically, the number of people who viewed the United States very favorably increased by six points after a $100 million increase in health aid.
While treating diseases in other countries may not seem like it protects the health of U.S. citizens, it most certainly can. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) helped build the capacity of local health clinics in sub-Saharan Africa as well as provide medical infrastructure. Designed to fight HIV and AIDS, these advances proved to effectively double as a guard against the 2014 Ebola outbreaks. The laboratory and training provided by PEPFAR prevented Ebola from ballooning into a pandemic in Nigeria. In Uganda, too, PEPFAR’s health aid support proved vital in fighting a 2012 Ebola outbreak.
PEPFAR’s medical infrastructure is also supporting the international COVID-19 response. In South Africa, the U.S. funded $8.4 million through existing PEPFAR infrastructure to counter COVID-19. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and USAID trained 5,000 South African health workers to include screening for COVID-19 as they conduct routine AIDS monitoring.
Health Aid Is Growing
In 2018, Congress passed and President Trump signed the PEPFAR Extension Act, which extended certain PEPFAR provisions until 2023. The Fiscal Year 2020 budget also contained around $11 million in funding for programs fighting AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, among other infectious diseases.
While government agencies are giving health aid to those in need, there is much more that needs to be done. The COVID-19 epidemic is straining health systems globally. Since global health aid benefits countries with inadequate medical infrastructure and the United States, Congress would be wise to increase its efforts.
– Jonathan Helton