Mr. Cantor: Restore funding for global health – lives hang in the balance

By Charles Liu, Lily Ostrer, and Alyssa Yamamoto

Tomorrow, Representative Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, is speaking at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. He arrives at Harvard after a week of intense debate on Capitol Hill, during which he led the effort in the House to approve the biggest cuts in discretionary spending since World War II. We understand the need to rein in federal government spending; as members of the “future generations” politicians refer to so frequently, we appreciate that continuing to borrow 40 cents of every dollar we spend as a nation is unsustainable. What is deeply upsetting is that in their zeal to please the voters who swept them into office, Representative Cantor and his fellow House Republicans have placed the burden of shrinking the U.S. deficit squarely on the backs of the global poor. Taking advantage of a period of economic uncertainty to cut aid to the world’s voiceless poor may be politically expedient, even politically popular, but it is morally wrong.

Particularly infuriating is House Republicans’ decision to cut $1.5 billion in funding from America’s global health and child survival initiatives around the world. These cuts, which include a $525 million reduction in our commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and over $800 million less for global AIDS programs, would have a devastating effect on millions of women, children, and men in the developing world. A recent analysis by the Health Global Access Project found that the cuts to the Global Fund alone, if enacted, will lead to 68,000 more infants being infected with HIV at birth, 12 million fewer families having access to bet nets to prevent malaria, and the elimination of lifesaving treatment for 434,000 people with tuberculosis and 483,000 people with AIDS. If the effects of having to halt and reverse the scale-up of successful American programs are taken into account, the human costs reach even more staggering proportions, with more than 1 million preventable deaths possible as a result.

Trimming deficits on the backs of the poor and vulnerable is not only immoral – it does next to nothing to actually solve our country’s fiscal problems. As Michael Gerson of the Washington Post put it: “No one can reasonably claim that the budget crisis exists because America spends too much on bed nets and AIDS drugs. Our massive debt is mainly caused by a combination of entitlement commitments, an aging population, and health cost inflation.” Claiming that our deficit problem can be solved by cuts to global health initiatives, instead of meaningful reform of our country’s entitlement programs and tax code, is disingenuous and irresponsible.

Indeed, advocates for cutting global health funding argue that we can’t afford to continue to pay for these life-saving programs. We propose two ways to do so. First, let the Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthiest 2% of Americans expire. The continuance of these tax cuts is estimated to contribute $700 billion to the national deficits over the next decade—money that could be better allocated to fully fund global health programs while still greatly reducing our deficit. Second, pass H.R. 755, the Investing in Our Future Act, which would raise $28 billion a year for global health and climate change mitigation programs by levying a 0.005% fee on currency transactions carried out by banks every day to the tune of billions in profits. While both of these ideas are associated with Democrats, let’s also not forget that the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), America’s biggest bilateral global health initiative, was created by President George W. Bush and reauthorized by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress in 2008. We strongly feel that global health is not a Democratic or Republican issue, but an American one.

So what do we do now? Here at Harvard, we care about global health, at least nominally. We have numerous departments, institutes, and centers devoted to its study and practice, and many of us have taken courses or traveled to distant countries to learn about helping the global poor. Yet, when it comes to promoting and protecting U.S. funding for programs that provide lifesaving treatment and disease prevention for millions abroad, we too often remain silent, content that our own lives and health are not at risk. Tomorrow, you have an opportunity to speak for those who cannot. We call on those who share our view of the urgency and importance of this issue to join us at 5:30 PM on Thursday in front of the Littauer Building of the Harvard Kennedy School. Together, we will urge Representative Cantor to call for a restoration of full funding for U.S. global health programs. On this issue, we truly believe, lives hang in the balance.

Charles Liu ’11, a Molecular and Cellular Biology concentrator, lives in Cabot House. Lily Ostrer ’14 lives in Lionel Hall. Alyssa Yamamoto ’12, a Comparative Study of Religion concentrator, lives in Dunster House.