Cuts to UN Funding Would Cost Millions of Lives

This blog was written by GHC Board Member Kate Dodson, Vice President of Global Health for the United Nations Foundation.

On March 16, the White House released an FY18 budget proposal that calls for drastic cuts to the State Department, US Agency for International Development (USAID) and other non-defense discretionary spending. This means a huge reduction in funding for the United Nations (UN), including its specialized agencies that play a central role in promoting and protecting the health of populations around the world – such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Women, the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the World Food Program (WFP), among others. If adopted by Congress, such cuts would cripple vital humanitarian programs that contribute to global stability and economic growth, and would severely jeopardize the health and security of Americans at home and abroad.

Strong support for the UN is crucial to achieving many strategic goals that matter to people around the world and is essential to achieving U.S. objectives. While the U.S. President’s initial budget proposal acknowledges the importance of multilateral platforms such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria as well as bilateral initiatives like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), the proposed cuts to the UN and foreign assistance in general will severely undermine the effectiveness of these programs.

The UN system is well positioned with the international credibility, convening power, and organizational mechanisms to facilitate and coordinate health work on a global scale in a way that the U.S. cannot do alone. A strong and fully-funded UN is essential for U.S. health agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fulfill their mandate of protecting Americans from health threats both foreign and in the U.S. These organizations rely on the extensive networks of UN agencies, including staff on the front lines, to access remote or unstable areas, and to leverage local infrastructure and resources. They also rely on the convening power of the UN system to provide a platform for multilateral collaboration on health – including the sharing of pathogen samples and timely reporting of outbreaks – and to harness the commitment of other countries toward mitigating and responding to shared health threats.

Funding for the UN amounts to only 0.1% of the overall federal budget but yields an enormous return on investment. For less than a penny per dollar, the U.S. government can play a key role in helping the UN vaccinate 45% of the world’s children, protect 376 million people from contracting malaria each year, and work with countries to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks, potentially averting the next global pandemic. Republican Representative Ed Royce recently said that cuts to these programs “could damage efforts to combat terrorism, save lives, and create opportunities for American workers.” Even more, withholding full support to the UN could destabilize the international humanitarian order.

This is a make or break moment for global health progress. Due in large part to the efforts of the UN – with support from the U.S. – we are within sight of an AIDS-free generation, on the brink of eradicating polio and guinea worm, and getting closer each day to ending preventable child and maternal deaths. The UN’s work in these areas promotes fundamental American values and advances our nation’s core foreign policy, national security, global health, and economic objectives. A cut in funding to the UN would not make America stronger, safer, or healthier – it would do just the opposite.

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