Bill Frist: Foreign Aid Saves Lives—And Makes America Safer (Christianity Today)

CHRISTIANITY TODAY | For the past two decades, we have had a front-row seat in the bipartisan movement to end worldwide preventable, treatable diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and to make poverty history.

Since 1990, the world has cut in half maternal and child deaths, infectious diseases, and poverty as well as turned the tide on HIV/AIDS. We have made unprecedented strides in human history.

This may be the legacy of our generation as historians analyze what we were able to accomplish worldwide during our lifetime. Central to this legacy, it is worth noting, is the progress led by the United States during the Bush Administration. Millions of mothers, babies, children, and families are alive today thanks to America’s great leadership in the world for health, food security, and education—all at a cost of less than 1 percent of our country’s spending. (Year after year, most Americans estimate that we spend far more than that.) As doctors say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

As President Donald Trump seeks to balance the US budget, it has been reported that the administration wants to dramatically cut foreign assistance by as much as 37 percent.

Read more at Christianity Today: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/march-web-only/bill-frist-foreign-aid-saves-lives-and-makes-america-safer.html

What a Difference a Decade Makes

(The Hill, May 28, 2013)

By Rep. Barbara Lee and Bill Frist

A Democratic Congresswoman and a former Republican Senator aren’t afforded many opportunities to work together. Especially at a time of fiscal crisis when every dollar is scrutinized and fought over, partisanship pushes us into opposite corners. But we agree on a program that truly has bipartisan support, saves millions of lives a year, and contributes directly to stability, security and economic growth worldwide.

Ten years ago this May, when the AIDS pandemic was at its worst, ravaging many African countries and a sure death sentence for millions, our country responded in an unprecedented way. We both, along with the late Republican Congressman Henry Hyde and the late Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos, worked with the Congressional Black Caucus and a bipartisan group of legislators to address this enormous problem. Soon after, in 2003, then-President George W. Bush instated PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, pledging $15 billion over five years to combat the spread of HIV, prevent further infections and improve access to care for millions of people across the globe.  Each year since then, Congress, with bipartisan support, has stood behind the program, providing critical funding to enable PEPFAR to truly help change the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic.

Now, a decade later, PEPFAR’s success isn’t just measured in dollars spent, but in lives saved and communities improved. The Institute of Medicine called the program “transformational” in global health.

PEPFAR has directly supported life-saving antiretroviral treatment for nearly 5.1 million men, women and children around the world, and is helping prevent hundreds of thousands of mother-to-child transmissions, an essential step toward achieving an AIDS-free generation. Engaging women is crucial to the broader goal; about half of the people living with HIV worldwide are women, and their empowerment is critical to beating this disease. PEPFAR supported HIV testing and counseling for more than 11 million pregnant women in 2012 alone.

Because of PEPFAR, we’re not just working toward an AIDS-free generation, we’re achieving an AIDS-free generation.

All around the world, PEPFAR is caring both for the health of the individual and the health of communities. The medications and programs supported by PEPFAR are so effective that people living with HIV/AIDS are doing just that — living. Infected individuals can care for their families and hold jobs. Communities enjoy economic stability. The United States earns a positive reputation.

But we are at a tipping point to truly realize this vision. If we back away now, the gains we’ve made will evaporate; the success we’ve had will disappear. Support of PEPFAR now is as important as it was 10 years ago.

HIV is a virus, not an ideology. Democrats and Republicans should be proud of PEPFAR’s legacy and continue to support it moving forward, providing the program with the robust funding it still needs to help achieve an AIDS-free generation.

Lee serves on the House Committee on the Budget and the House Appropriations subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, and is founding co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus and represents the United States on the United Nations’ Global Commission on HIV and the Law. Frist is adjunct professor of surgery at Vanderbilt and Meharry medical schools and former majority leader of the U.S. Senate.

This article was originally featured in The Hill http://thehill.com/opinion/op-ed/302249-what-a-difference-a-decade-makes-

A Crucial Moment for Global Nutrition

(The Hill, May 22, 2013)

On June 8, the United Kingdom, under the leadership of Prime Minister David Cameron, will host “Nutrition for Growth,” a high-level meeting where donor governments, including our own, will pledge funding and other commitments to address undernutrition and its devastating impact on the long-term health and productivity of millions of people in developing countries.

Sitting side by side with donors and foundations will be representatives of developing country governments, the private sector and civil society organizations, demonstrating the truly complex and multi-stakeholder nature of nutrition.

Malnutrition is one of the world’s most serious, yet least-addressed, development challenges. It contributes to almost 2.5 million young child deaths annually. Malnutrition is a serious drain on economic productivity, costing countries as much as 11 percent of GDP.

Close to 200 million children throughout the world are chronically malnourished and suffer from serious, often irreversible cognitive damage. Physically, undernourished children are stunted—smaller in stature than their well-nourished peers, more susceptible to illness throughout life, including noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and obesity.

The case for greater leadership and investments in global nutrition is clear. The Copenhagen Consensus, an expert panel of economists that includes several Nobel laureates, concluded that fighting malnutrition in young children should be the top priority investment for policymakers. In the group’s report, they stated that every $1 invested in nutrition generates as much as $138 in better health and increased productivity. Similar studies have found that undernutrition causes between $20 billion and $30 billion in additional health costs every year to treat the long-term consequences of early childhood malnutrition.

While the problem is complex, the solutions don’t need to be. Cost-effective, evidence-based solutions exist. What we need are the resources and the political commitment to scale up proven nutrition solutions.  Political commitment in the form of presidential leadership and bipartisan congressional support works. We have seen it in the Global Fund, the President’s Malaria Initiative, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

We can do it again — this time to scale up and align nutrition investments. To follow the proven PEPFAR model, we should target resources to benefit the most vulnerable; align resources across all agencies and programs; focus on countries where we have committed partners and country-led strategies; and coordinate efforts internationally.

UNICEF reports that 1 in 4 children under the age of five is stunted and 80 percent of those children live in just 14 countries. The Lancet’s series on maternal and child health and nutrition highlights the 1,000 days from the beginning of pregnancy to a child’s second birthday as the critical window of opportunity for human health and development.

Like PEPFAR, we can target our interventions to benefit those most vulnerable to undernutrition, namely pregnant women and young children. We have commitments from more than 30 countries, which as part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement — a partnership of donors, developing countries, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector — have identified undernutrition as a severe impediment to economic development. A number of those countries have developed national nutrition plans that offer donors an opportunity to build upon and strengthen the country-led aspect of the investments.

We can begin by working with those committed country partners through bilateral and multilateral channels and offer our government’s technical expertise and best practices to galvanize a concrete investment strategy that includes innovative public and private partnerships and financing mechanisms.

There is an emerging international coordination effort for nutrition: the Nutrition for Growth event in London, last year’s G8 commitment to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the UK-led Hunger Summit of 2012 and the growing Scaling Up Nutrition movement. These efforts will help the United States to share with other donors the cost of alleviating this global problem.

This is a critical moment for the U.S. to lead on global nutrition. The June 8 summit in London is the perfect opportunity for the Obama administration to announce a bold global nutrition strategy that outlines a multifaceted and multi-year approach to better coordinate and integrate nutrition resources across sectors and agencies, with clearly defined goals and targets, and with the dedicated resources necessary to achieve the strategy’s stated goals. Bipartisan leaders in Congress must step forward and commit to working with the president to make global nutrition a top priority of U.S. development assistance.

The moment for turning the corner on global nutrition is here, and it is time for our elected leaders to demonstrate anew how American leadership is the driving force for building a healthier, safer and more prosperous world.

William H. Frist, M.D. is a nationally acclaimed heart transplant surgeon, former U.S. Senate majority leader, the chairman of Hope Through Healing Hands and Tennessee SCORE, professor of surgery and author of six books. Learn more about his work at BillFrist.com.

This article was originally featured in The Hill http://thehill.com/opinion/op-ed/301179-a-crucial-moment-for-global-nutrition

We Must Continue Our Legacy of Saving Lives

(Roll Call, March 7, 2013)

Now is no time to shy away from our health investments

By Bill Frist

A decade ago, as I was beginning my time as Senate majority leader, bipartisan consensus in Washington helped launch a new era of progress in global health just when it was sorely needed. Twenty years had passed since I first saw AIDS patients in Boston, though at the time we didn’t even have a name for this savage disease. Advances in treatment and technology were helping control HIV in the United States, but AIDS was decimating communities worldwide. There were tens of millions of infections, yet only 400,000 people in low- and middle-income countries had access to lifesaving antiretroviral therapy, meaning only a tiny fraction were able to escape death.

World leaders united to tackle AIDS and other scourges through an innovative financing tool — the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. President George W. Bush and Congress made a founding pledge of $300 million to the international initiative. Bush, with bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress, also established the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the largest program ever to combat a single disease. President Barack Obama has similarly embraced this program and America’s role in eradicating this disease.

U.S. leadership at the Global Fund, and bilateral health programs such as PEPFAR and the President’s Malaria Initiative, signaled a renewed commitment to a core facet of our country’s greatness: compassion for those most in need. Understanding that improving global health is good for national security, economically prudent and — most importantly — the right thing to do, the U.S. taxpayers made an unprecedented investment in the world’s future.

That investment is paying off.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of PEPFAR this year, the number of people on lifesaving treatment has increased more than twentyfold. HIV infection rates are down. The number of malaria cases has plummeted by more than 50 percent. Tuberculosis mortality rates are falling steadily. The Global Fund alone saves an estimated 100,000 lives each and every month, working in more than 150 countries. These health gains were once unimaginable.

A new chapter in global health begins this month as visionary leader Dr. Mark Dybul takes the helm as executive director of the Global Fund. With so much gridlock in Washington, Dybul’s appointment is a reminder of what we can accomplish by reaching across party lines.

Dybul, who began as a physician treating AIDS patients in the early years of the pandemic, helped transform the fight against the disease as the architect and leader of PEPFAR. Now at the Global Fund, he will lead the charge to defeat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Armed with scientific expertise and dedicated to a mission that goes beyond political ideology, there may be no one better suited for the job.

Today there is real hope in this fight — but it’s far from over. We have the science to help people with HIV live healthy lives, but millions still lack access to the treatment they need. We can detect and treat TB, but drug-resistant strains represent a growing threat, and disease respects no borders. And malaria still takes countless lives each year, though it can be stopped with basic, incredibly cheap prevention.

Now is no time to shy away from our health investments. Scientific innovation continues to produce miracles at an accelerating pace. International donors are stepping up to the plate. Many traditional aid recipients are putting more resources into their own domestic health. The U.S. investment — less than 1 percent of our federal budget — saves and transforms hundreds of thousands of lives every year. It’s hard to imagine a better return on investment.

U.S. leadership has helped deliver a major blow to these three diseases, and backing down now would jeopardize that momentum. We’ve come too far to risk letting these diseases spread, mutate or reclaim the lives of people whom medicines have made healthy. We must finish this fight.

There are also real problems here at home, not the least of which is a challenging economic environment. And there is frequent division in Washington. But while sweeping agreement on Capitol Hill may be rare, the same bipartisan, compassionate commitment to global health remains strong. Obama called PEPFAR one of his predecessor’s “greatest legacies.” As Dybul and the Global Fund chart the path forward, we see new U.S. leaders from both parties taking up the mantle of global health, united in putting an end to these diseases.

Determined leadership today will help secure a stronger America and a brighter, healthier future for millions in the years to come. We have a long way to go, but together we can finally put AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria where they belong — in the history books.

Bill Frist, a physician, is a former Republican senator and majority leader from Tennessee.

This article was originally featured in Roll Call http://www.rollcall.com/news/frist_we_must_continue_our_legacy_of_saving_lives-222946-1.html

Is AIDS the last bipartisan issue?

(The Week, July 31)

These days, Washington can’t agree on anything. Thankfully, though, some brave lawmakers are still willing to cross the aisle to fight a deadly disease.

We live in fiercely contentious times. Every day, it seems, a new issue arises that Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on. Health care, taxes, energy, favorite flavor of ice cream — it seems our elected leaders must disagree at every turn. But one issue that has so far repulsed the partisan pressures of the times was highlighted in our nation’s capital last week: the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Washington, D.C., hosted the XIX International AIDS Conference. It was an energetic, passion-filled week. More than 23,000 attendees from across the globe heard and engaged speakers including both former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, cutting edge research scientists, activists, Nobel laureates, world leaders, and even a few celebrities. Perhaps even more important, many HIV positive men and women came together from dozens of countries to find a caring, supportive community.

The United States — and more specifically, the American taxpayer — has been the undisputed world leader in fighting this cagey virus for which there is no cure. This single virus has taken the lives of more than 580,000 Americans and 25 million globally since it emerged here in our country just over 30 years ago. The conference was a celebration of the remarkable success made because of this leadership, and a call for continued support.

When we stop the hollowing out of societies and inspire hope, there is no limit to what we can accomplish together.

As moderator for a panel on the congressional role, I witnessed what I felt to be an accurate portrayal of how we got to the point where we could celebrate so many successes. Fundamental to the progress has been bipartisanship. Participating were two Democrats, Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Sen. Chris Coons (Del.), and two Republicans, Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.).

Our panel’s balanced party identification was more than symbolism, as Rep. Lee acknowledged when she described the U.S. response as bipartisan, saying, “it never would have happened without … Republicans in the House and the Senate.” Indeed, the bold $15 billion PEPFAR commitment initiated by President George W. Bush and supported by Congress was quickly taken up and expanded under the Obama administration. All panel members were quick to praise the leadership and dedication of the other’s party.

And there is cause for such praise. PEPFAR, unprecedented in scope and size in its combatting of a single disease, has saved millions of lives, provided 4.5 million people with treatment, enabled hundreds of thousands of HIV positive mothers to give birth to healthy, disease-free children, and allowed tens of millions to receive testing, counseling and care. In 1995, 50,000 Americans died of AIDS. In 2009, that number was down to 20,000. Promisingly, partner countries are increasingly supporting this work internally. Last year, poorer countries invested $8.6 billion into the fight as international financing provided by wealthier nations amounted to $8.2 billion. As I have said for years, when we stop the hollowing out of societies and inspire hope, there is no limit to what we can accomplish together.

The results of this bipartisan American commitment are in, and they are undeniable. Our past investment has inspired others to contribute, saved lives at home and around the world, and empowered economic development with a healthier workforce. But the risk today in a more highly charged partisan environment and in more fiscally challenging times is to say we have done our job and it’s time to move on. That would be a huge mistake, and all our progress would be erased because we still don’t have a cure. Around the world and at home, the AIDS epidemic is far from over.

Rep. Lee noted that there are still American communities where “the percentages [of AIDS] are comparable to sub-Saharan Africa.” This is unacceptable, and you do not have to look far into the past to a time when both parties wholeheartedly understood this.

As Sen. Enzi recollected, in 2003 the PEPFAR bill “passed both the House and Senate unanimously, un-amended, in less than two months. That never happens.” But Enzi elaborated that five years later, when the time came for reauthorization under President Bush, the measure passed “again in a bipartisan way” — although “we didn’t have quite the same votes that we had the first time.”

However, hope for preserving this flame of bipartisan conviction was articulately reflected by the two other members of the panel, Sens. Rubio and Coons, each representing different parties, and neither of whom were in office during the original PEPFAR passage. They have emerged as powerful and knowledgeable voices on global health and HIV. Such leadership is vital when the focus of Congress, today filled with new members who were not around when PEPFAR originally passed, is understandably on domestic issues, the economy, jobs, and health care.

While living and working in Africa in the mid 1980s, Sen. Coons was inspired by the profound human tragedy he witnessed firsthand and has transformed these experiences into true leadership. But he warns that we “can’t take [continued U.S. leadership] for granted in what is an incredibly difficult, very partisan and very divided Congress at a time when our politics are in some ways the rockiest they’ve been in more than a generation.” But out of a world of mudslinging and disagreement, the Democratic senator says it “has been really refreshing to be able to work closely with Republicans” to fight this epidemic.

At a time when our national debt is skyrocketing, the typical American finds it difficult to understand how massive spending for people overseas, even if it is lifesaving, can be justified. But just how massive is this spending really? Not the 25 percent of our budget that most Americans think. In truth, our foreign aid spending is less than 1 percent of the federal budget. As Sen. Rubio, himself a favorite of the Tea Party, eloquently asserted, “If you zeroed out foreign aid it would do nothing for the debt, but it would be devastating not just for the world, but for America’s role in it.”

Progress has been mind-blowing. Science made possible by taxpayer investment through the NIH has brought miraculous new drugs to treat and, just this month, new medicines to prevent. Cost of treatment has fallen ten-fold and continues to plummet. Prevention strategies have turned the tide of devastation. But all this was accomplished because Americans came together, Republican and Democrat, working hand in hand in a bipartisan and meaningful way, rallying together to fashion solutions that are changing the course of history.

As Sen. Rubio declared, “the closer we get to the finish line is not the time to ease up, it’s the time to run through the tape.” Let’s continue to put our partisan differences aside and run this one together.

Dr. William H. Frist is a nationally acclaimed heart transplant surgeon, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, the chairman of Hope Through Healing Hands and Tennessee SCORE, professor of surgery, and author of six books. Learn more about his work at BillFrist.com.

This article was originally featured in The Week http://theweek.com/article/index/231271/is-aids-the-last-bipartisan-issue

5 reasons deficit hawks should lay off global health initiatives

(The Week, April 24, 2012)

By Bill Frist, M.D.

America’s national debt is ballooning at a worryingly rapid pace. But some programs ought to be spared the chopping block.

Government spending is about to get chopped — no matter who wins the next presidential election. President Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney have both prioritized deficit reduction, which, of course, is a worthy goal. However, not all cuts are created equal. And many surveys put global health at the top of the list of things to slash. That’s a mistake, and here’s why.

1. Global health initiatives save lives abroad
Investments in global health pay off a lot more quickly and dramatically that you might think. PEPFAR, initiated by President George W. Bush and strongly embraced and expanded by Obama, was the largest direct investment any country has made in defeating a single virus (HIV) or disease. Our taxpayers’ leadership has provided 7.2 million people with access to lifesaving, anti-retroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS, 8.6 million with treatment for tuberculosis, and more than 260 million — mostly kids — with anti-malarial resources. This U.S.-led historic initiative to prevent and fight disease has directly saved millions of lives, put kids back in school, and helped rescue entire societies from collapse over the past eight years.

Lifting others up no matter where they live is part of what makes us American.

Saving lives and societies leads to better and stronger relationships for trade, enterprise, and foreign investments. It enables economic growth, democracy, accountability, and transparency in these countries.

2.Global health initiatives protect U.S. families
Deadly microbes know no borders. They are just one plane ride away. HIV did not exist in the U.S. when I was a surgical trainee in 1981. But since then, it has killed more than 600,000 individuals here (and 25 million globally) and infects another 54,000 U.S. citizens each year. It arrived here from Haiti, migrating there from Africa.

Imagine the devastation avoided if we had identified HIV and our National Institutes of Health had figured out how to treat the virus a decade before it arrived on our shores. Our current global surveillance and engagement system might have done just that.

3.Global health initiatives enhance national security
A hopeful people are a people who shun terrorism. And nothing destroys hope more than a society without a future, hollowed out by diseases that decimate middle-aged civil servants, police, doctors, and teachers. A bleak and nonproductive future for an individual sets the stage for societal discontent and chaos.

Our investments in public health reverse these tragedies, and fuel the smart power of health diplomacy. Kaiser Family Foundation surveys have repeatedly revealed that more than half the public thinks U.S. spending on health in developing countries is helpful for U.S. diplomacy (59 percent) and for improving America’s image in the countries receiving aid (56 percent).

4.Global health initiatives are a bargain
Treating HIV costs a tenth of what it did a decade ago, and the costs continue to plummet. Globally, of the 8 million children under 5 years old who will die this year, half could be treated and cured with a low-cost intervention. Pneumonia, the number one killer of young children in the world, is easily treated for less than a dollar! And the No. 2 killer, diarrhea, can be prevented by increasing access to clean water. The price? For $20, we can provide clean water to a family for 20 years. For $14, we can fully vaccinate a child.

5.Global health initiatives are simply the right thing to do
I was born in Nashville by the luck of the draw. It could just as well have been South Africa, where life expectancy is only 49 years. We are all the same. Lifting others up no matter where they live is part of what makes us American. It’s what we do. Americans overwhelmingly say the U.S. should spend money on improving health for people in developing countries “because it’s the right thing to do.” Nearly half (46 percent) say this is the most important reason for the U.S. to invest in global health.

Yes, out of control entitlement spending and a deep recession have put everything on the chopping block. But let’s be smart about where we cut and where we don’t.

 

This article was originally featured in The Week http://theweek.com/article/index/227117/5-reasons-deficit-hawks-should-lay-off-global-health-initiatives