Wednesday September 20, 2017

Gates Foundation warns global health under threat as foreign aid wanes

CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sue Desmond-Hellmann says the U.S. cutting foreign aid would not only threaten global health but also global health security.

CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sue Desmond-Hellmann says the U.S. cutting foreign aid would not only threaten global health but also global health security. (Submitted by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is issuing a stark warning: millions of people could die if foreign aid budgets are cut. 

As the United Nations General Assembly meets this week, the Gates Foundation — the world's largest private philanthropic organization — released a report card on the world's health, looking at progress on a number of indicators such as infant mortality, AIDS, and vaccination rates.

There's good news and bad news.

"Between 1990 and 2016, six million fewer children died. That's more than all the children in France. And so the world is for sure making progress," the foundation's CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 

"The world has made more progress in the last 25 years than at any other time, and going forward, the peril, the threat, is if we don't keep our focus on those 2030 goals ... we could backslide."

The goals in question are the UN's 2015 Sustainable Development Goals — a series of bold targets around global poverty and health with a deadline of 2030.

However, according to the report, some of the progress is under serious threat because donor countries are less committed to giving aid. 

"There are a lot of myths about foreign aid. There are a lot of misconceptions about it. And we're pro-foreign aid because the kinds of investments that the world has made have made such a difference," says Desmond-Hellmann.

She gives the example of HIV/AIDS. AIDS deaths have fallen by almost half since their peak in 2005. But if aid wavers, it would be catastrophic, she says. A 10 per cent cut in money for HIV/AIDS could mean a loss of all the gains made in the last 15 years, according to Desmond-Hellmann. 

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Rose Koluwa, an HIV positive mother of six boys and one girl, poses with her children in Juba, April 28, 2016. Rose was infected by her husband, who died. (Albert Gonzalez/AFP/Getty Images)

Desmond-Hellmann worked in Uganda with HIV/AIDS patients in the 1990s and says she sees the people behind those numbers. 

"I see children, I see infants, I see people in the primes of their lives … I've seen this firsthand and so I know for sure what a scourge HIV is, and I know for sure that in the last 10 years investment in antiretroviral therapy and these modern ways of treating and preventing HIV have made a massive difference in the world."

According to the Foundation, one worrisome development is U.S. President Trump's threat to significantly slash U.S. foreign aid.

In 2016, $37.6 billion U.S. was available for development assistance for health in the world — $12.8 billion U.S. came from the U.S. government.

"A cut to U.S. foreign aid would have a material impact on the globe's ability to provide things for health, for the poorest of the world. That is a massive threat to global health but also to global health security, Desmond-Hellmann tells Tremonti.

"A healthier world is a safer world."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith.