Global Health and American Moral Power


Maurice Middleberg of IntraHealth International discusses the moral necessity of US spending on global health programs.

My parents survived the Holocaust; they were Jewish children who spent the war in hiding in France. After the war, they received CARE packages from America. The Marshall Plan helped rebuild France. I once asked my mother what this meant to her. She said, “After all we had been through, it reminded me that there were still good people in the world.”

At its best, our country is the most powerful force for good the world has ever known. The force of our values has shaped the world since my parents were children. Military might and economic preeminence rest upon the foundation of our values.

Budgets are moral documents. They say what is important and unimportant to us as a people and as a nation. Some believe America can no longer afford to be a force for good in the world.

I disagree. I’m old enough to have lived through multiple cycles of economic distress. American ingenuity and resilience have revived our country every time. That will happen again. We must keep our moral compass on the road to economic vitality.

Because the American moral compass is unwavering during good and bad economic times, the United States has led the fight against disease and death among the world’s poorest people. The results have been miraculous. Between 1990 and 2009, the number of deaths of children under five declined from 12.4 million to 8.1 million. This means 12,000 fewer children die every day. Maternal deaths have dropped by a third—1,000 fewer women die every day. Thanks to the United States, over 3.2 million people are receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS. This record of success is replicated in family planning, malaria, tuberculosis, and other tropical diseases.

Miracles are not free. They cost eight cents a day. That is the average cost to each American citizen for the US government contribution to saving lives among the world’s poorest. Eight cents. That is about one-fifth of one percent of the US government budget.

Some people say eight cents is too much. They want to cut it to six cents. Really. Their proposal is to save the American taxpayer two cents a day at the cost of lives and claim a fiscal victory. Make no mistake—the cost of “saving” two cents a day will be that children will die, mothers will die in childbirth, and AIDS sufferers will be cut off from treatment.

The decency of Americans does not wane in hard times. Even in the depths of economic crisis, over sixty percent of Americans think that the US is either spending the right amount or too little on assistance for health in developing countries; only twenty-eight percent think we are spending too much.

The American people are both good and sensible. They understand that building a better world is in our best interests. So they support joining a global effort to save lives that brings together many governments, charities, religions, nonprofit organizations, and businesses.

The American force for good is on display in every village where the burden of disease is alleviated. Global health joins American values to our national interest at very low cost. The exercise of American moral power and decency ripples through generations. My family is testament to that.


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