As Americans vote, what does it mean for global health?

October 30, 2018 by Carolyn Reynolds

US capitol

The United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Carolyn Reynolds, PATH’s vice president of Policy & Advocacy, explains how the midterm elections could impact US leadership in global health.

As the midterms approach, there’s a lot at stake for those of us who care about global health and development. Control of the Senate will depend on just nine “toss-up” seats. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs, but only a small number, a net gain of 24 seats, are needed to change the majority. Add in the fact that a number of our prominent global health and development champions are retiring—such as Dave Reichert (R-WA), who chairs the Congressional Global Health Caucus, and Bob Corker (R-TN), who chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee—and it’s no wonder many in our community are concerned that US support for these critical programs could be in jeopardy.

However, there’s still hope. There are two simple things worth remembering:

First, saving lives and improving health around the world is a bipartisan US priority.

From preventing hunger and the spread of deadly diseases to expanding access to girls’ education, women’s health care, and childhood nutrition and immunization, tremendous progress has been made in global health and development with the support of the American people.

For instance, because of American investments in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief since 2003, more than 2.2 million babies at risk of HIV in Africa have been born free of HIV, and millions of AIDS orphans and vulnerable children have received compassionate care and support. A US-supported malaria program, the President’s Malaria Initiative, is another success story. It has helped cut the number of malaria cases globally by 37 percent and malaria deaths by 60 percent since 2000. Support for both these global programs has remained strong over the years throughout shifts in control of Congress and the White House—because they work, they reflect our humanitarian values, and they engender tremendous goodwill for America.

As compared to just two decades ago, more Americans today understand that foreign assistance is not a “handout” but rather it advances US interests. American businesses and global nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as PATH are working with the US government to support these programs and to continue to transform the way we deliver aid through innovation. Congress’ recent passage of the BUILD Act, a bill that will catalyze private-sector investments to drive global development impact—is the newest chapter in America’s 70-year-plus continuing commitment to improving the health and well-being of people around the world—whether it’s saving lives, improving access to safe drinking water, preventing blindness, and so much more.

And it’s not just about improving health. As evidenced by recent US efforts to improve a country’s ability to prevent, detect, and respond to public health threats, investments in global health and development can also help cultivate new markets for American products and services. They can protect and promote demand for exports that support millions of US-based jobs in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing—jobs that are critical to America’s economic well-being.

Second, advocacy matters.

While the outcome of the midterms won’t be clear until polls close on November 6, what we do know is this: whether they are returning for another term or arriving in DC for the first time, legislators are influenced by what they hear from their constituents. Back in 1994 when the US faced another “wave” election, there was almost no national grassroots constituency for foreign assistance programs outside the US Capital Beltway. Now as a result of persistent advocacy efforts from groups like PATH working together with our NGO and business partners in coalitions such as the US Global Leadership Coalition, today there are strong and growing numbers of vocal supporters for US foreign assistance in all 50 states. At the same time, with so many competing domestic priorities, we can’t take this support for granted.

So as the new Congress takes shape and prepares to lead in 2019, we must also get to work. Those of us who understand and care about the impact of US leadership in the world must engage with our elected officials and the people they represent, to make the case for continued US investments in global health and development—for a better and healthier world, and a safer and more prosperous America.

Learn more about how and why we advocate.

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