Attention presidential transition teams: The first hundred days of the new administration should kick start an ambitious agenda in global health alongside long-needed reforms to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of US action. Building on our earlier work, we suggest seven priority actions within three broad categories.
The United States Government has the requisite technical know-how, financial and logistical resources, and bipartisan political support to lead the response to enduring global health challenges, and it is critical that the United States is prepared to meet them. This memo’s six recommendations are the result of a roundtable discussion on how the next administration and Congress can update and improve on the US global health engagement model.
In the absence of effective international institutions, the United States has become the world’s de facto first responder for global health crises such as HIV/AIDS and new threats like Ebola. The US government has the technical know-how, financial and logistical resources, and unparalleled political support to act quickly and save lives. Initiatives such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative are widely considered among the most effective aid programs in the world.
Yet US global health approaches are based on increasingly outdated engagement models, which fail to reflect emerging challenges, threats, and financial constraints. The next US president, working closely with Congress, should modernize how US global health programs are organized, deployed, and overseen. By taking three specific steps, the United States can reduce the need for costly first responses and generate more health and economic impact for every US taxpayer dollar spent.
Remarkable progress has been made in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. The number of people receiving treatment in low- and middle-income countries increased from 300,000 in 2003 to 13.7 million in 2015, including 7 million supported by the United States. These gains are primarily attributable to a 2003 US government initiative called PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) that provided major new multiyear funding for global HIV/AIDS and created a new entity, the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, headed by an ambassador-rank Global AIDS Coordinator who is authorized to allocate PEPFAR’s resources and coordinate all US bilateral and multilateral activities on HIV/AIDS.
However, without dramatic changes to PEPFAR, the next president risks being held responsible for the failure of a program that until now has been one of the United States’ proudest foreign assistance achievements. And because PEPFAR is a major component of US foreign assistance spending, the next president’s choices about PEPFAR will heavily influence any subsequent assessments of his or her humanitarian foreign assistance policies.
PEPFAR is at a critical turning point in its decade-long existence. The next US Global AIDS Coordinator is uniquely positioned to set the course for the program’s future. A change in leadership at the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief creates an opportunity to ask questions about the organization and reflect in more general terms on the US response to the global AIDS epidemic.
This report of the Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Program summarizes the rationale for continued U.S. investment in global health, looks into the evolution of the Global Health Initiative, and recommends a re-boot for the whole enterprise.