Reconsider severe international affairs budget cuts (The Tennessean)

TENNESSEAN | While music, faith, health care, and even hot chicken have made Nashville famous, we also have a robust hub of research, work, and advocacy for global health and development.

Thanks to the dozens of humanitarian organizations providing excellent services for vulnerable populations worldwide, Vanderbilt’s Institute for Global Health research and development, and the missions of hundreds of places of worship throughout the city, Nashville understands the critical health needs of mothers, children, and families around the world.

More than half of Americans believe that our foreign assistance constitutes 25 percent of our U.S. budget. But they are wrong. Global health advocates in Nashville know that our international affairs budget is actually less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget.

President Trump has recommended to cut this fraction — already less than a penny of each budget dollar — by 37 percent. And if the severity of this cut passes through Congress, what does that mean for women and children around the world?

Over the past 25 years, the U.S. has led an historic initiative in the history of humankind. Since 1990, we have halved the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day, even with an increase in population. We have halved the number of people who die from malaria and tuberculosis.

We have halved the number of children who die under the age of five from preventable, treatable diseases like pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea. We have halved the number of women who die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. And we have turned the tide of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

In 2000, less than 50,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to anti-retroviral medication. But today, thanks to the leadership of many faith, music, and academic leaders in Nashville who helped lead the nation’s advocacy to support those suffering from HIV/AIDS in Africa and around the world, over 21.5 million people have access to life-saving anti-retroviral medicines. Imagine if we cut these programs by 37 percent. How many people will die? How many more people will contract the virus because we weren’t at the forefront of prevention?

Leading the world in providing foreign assistance, albeit less than 1 percent of our budget, is not only the compassionate, moral thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do. We know that development is a critical component to national security.

Over 120 retired generals and admirals agree. Now is not the time to back down. Failed, collapsed countries are the breeding grounds of terrorism. But if we can provide a modicum of assistance, these same states have the wherewithal to pull their communities out of poverty to empower, educate, and build employment for sustainable governments and economies.

We have revolutionized the way that we provide foreign assistance over the last 15 years. Our leading global development agency, USAID, and bipartisan Presidential initiatives such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Feed the Future global agriculture program are using the newest and best interventions.

They are continuously conducting evaluations and learning agendas to ensure that our tax dollars are being spent effectively and responsibly. Because economic growth and country ownership are guiding principles for our development strategy, we ensure that our assistance is rooted in partnerships that empower developing countries to assume responsibility for their own future and to move beyond dependence on foreign aid.

We ask that the president reconsider these severe cuts to the international affairs budget — from moral, national security, and economic perspectives — to preserve the current level of funding that saves the lives of millions.

Bill Frist, M.D. is a nationally acclaimed heart and lung transplant surgeon, the  former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and the founder and Chairman of Hope Through Healing Hands. Pastor Mike Glenn is Senior Pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood. Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., R.N., is Dean Emerita of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing and has recently been named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing.

Read more at The Tennessean.