Pandemics have become a part of the 21st century reality. Not only do they take the world by surprise, but they are also frightening as they can destroy the global economy and life itself.
Epidemics arise throughout the world regularly. When an epidemic breeds in a country already struggling with basic health, economic and governance issues, the infection can spread across borders, growing into a pandemic. Global health crises are quite possible to arise in unstable countries.
Nancy Lindborg, a former USAID assistant administrator, noted that helping struggling nations in development is key to preventing pandemics. In the past, USAID kept America healthy in this regard. Here are three specific cases demonstrating its efforts.
3 Times USAID Kept America Healthy
- The HIV Epidemic: Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the pathogen that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDs). In 1985, there were only 20,000 AIDs cases reported. By the 1990s, this number grew to almost six million cases every year. The HIV epidemic impacted the world more than experts ever imagined.Since 1986, USAID has helped deter the HIV epidemic. It has been involved in surveilling, educating and preventing the disease. The USAID program IMPACT (Implementing AIDs Prevention and Care) spent $441 million between 1997 and 2008 and was able to extend its efforts to 75 countries, increasing prevention in a time when treatments were still limited.
In 2003, President George W. Bush authorized $18 billion for the first five-year phase of PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief). In 2008, the second phase of PEPFAR began with a budget of $48 billion over five years. This helped fund the work of NGOs on prevention in at-risk and vulnerable communities, as well as creating programs to manage HIV throughout the world.
While HIV can still be considered prevalent, the disease is well-understood and treatable. Around two million people were newly infected with HIV in 2015, compared to the almost six million annually at the height of the epidemic. Since 2010, HIV infections in children have dropped by 50 percent. Intense work and dedication on the HIV epidemic continue to slow the spread of the disease, which is one way that USAID kept America healthy.
- The Avian Flu Epidemic: The avian influenza virus (H5N1) was first diagnosed in Vietnam in 2003. Between 2003 and 2011, 119 people were infected and 59 died as a result. Worldwide, 325 of the 556 cases resulted in fatalities.USAID provided more than $40 million to Vietnam over six years to research the avian flu. This research has developed flu vaccines for birds, improved diagnostics and funded disease surveillance.
Nyugen Tung, deputy director of Vietnam’s national diagnosis center, notes that USAID helped improve the country’s ability to fight new avian flu epidemics. USAID has helped more than 50 countries monitor avian flu infections, preventing their spread. The number of countries affected dropped from 53 to 10 between 2006 and 2014. Funding has reduced infection rates, another way in which USAID protected the U.S. from disease.
- The Ebola Epidemic: Between 2014 and 2016, 28,000 people were infected with Ebola and 11,000 died from the disease. The Ebola epidemic was a clear case in which weakened countries did not possess the ability to stop the disease from spreading. The three most impacted countries were Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, which were all experiencing civil unrest, as well as weakened economies and health systems.In 2014, President Barack Obama authorized $1.98 billion for USAID to combat Ebola in those three countries. In Liberia, success was seen as USAID-funded eight new Ebola treatment units, 65 new burial teams (carefully tending to the dead is an important part in combating Ebola) and trained 500 healthcare workers per week. USAID also gave $190 million to improve stability in these countries so that future outbreaks could be prevented.
In February 2014, USAID began the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). This endeavor prevents, detects and responds to disease outbreaks in order to prevent a global health crisis. While starting in the face of the Ebola epidemic, it works along with the Avian Influenza and Emerging Pandemic Threats program. This has improved laboratories, trained workers, identified disease and educated the general population all around the world. This expansive response is the third way in which USAID kept America healthy.
The USAID budget seems costly. The figures mentioned in this article total $68.65 billion over 30 years. Yet, the U.S. government granted the Defense Department $612 billion in 2016 alone. Defense and International Security comprise 18 percent of the national budget. Foreign aid only costs one percent of the national budget, and only a portion of that goes to USAID.
USAID kept America healthy in more than just the above circumstances. USAID’s funding and efforts have helped contain SARs, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus, Marburg virus, Nipah virus and multiple flu outbreaks. USAID is an important part of U.S. security. It helps fight global poverty and strengthen countries, keeping them healthy and in turn keeping Americans safe.
– Mary Katherine Crowley