As chair of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, Rep. Hal Rogers assumed the critical responsibility of overseeing allocations of government expenditure and has made notable efforts toward reducing spending and balancing the budget.
However, some of the attempts to curb government spending — particularly in the realm of global health — appear sorely misguided. Not only will these efforts prove ineffectual in reducing the federal deficit, but they will also result in devastating consequences on those suffering from the global burden of disease.
A funding bill drafted by the House State and Foreign Operations Committee for fiscal year 2012 decreased foreign aid by $3.5 billion from fiscal year 2011 rates, with cuts to global health programs comprising a staggering $700 million of the reduction.
Such a significant reduction will undercut already-scarce funding for programs such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria — initiatives that have proven instrumental both in providing aid to those suffering worldwide and strengthening health-care infrastructure globally.
Among the most dramatic impact of proposed cuts will be the drastic reduction in access to HIV/AIDS treatment.
With 34 million people around the world currently living with HIV, 15 million of whom the World Health Organization identifies as needing immediate treatment, these cuts would, in effect, deny millions of people life-saving treatment.
The National Institutes of Health's study this year demonstrated that early initiation of antiretroviral therapy can reduce HIV transmission rates by an outstanding 96 percent, echoing the notion that treatment really is prevention. With these promising findings and the medical advances in treatment, it is now clearer than ever that our generation is equipped with the capability to end AIDS once and for all.
Looming budget cuts by the House Committee, however, threaten our potential to advance towards this goal and stagnate the incredible progress we have made thus far. In addition to significantly cutting program funds, this proposed bill also halts federal funding of syringe-exchange programs.
By offering free, sterile syringes in exchange for used ones, these programs have been shown by a 2004 World Health Organization study to significantly decrease rates of HIV transmission among injection drug users.
Within New York alone, HIV prevalence among injection drug users plummeted from 54 to 13 percent following the implementation of these programs.
Contrary to popular concerns, syringe-exchange programs have not been shown to exacerbate drug use, but rather can connect drug users to support services that aid in cessation.
Though other Western nations have strong federal funding for syringe exchange, the United States has historically lagged in providing support.
When Congress lifted the ban in 2009, syringe exchange was celebrated as a means to further HIV prevention efforts, even lauded by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as "a big victory for science and public health."
The resurrection of such a ban would therefore mark a significant step backwards in ending the AIDS epidemic.
Supporters of these policies point to the need to assuage our current financial deficit. But in reality, allocations to foreign aid comprise a marginal portion of the federal budget.
According to a World Public Opinion poll, Americans believe the government spends 25 percent on foreign aid, in comparison to the 10 percent they feel should be rightly allocated.
In fact, less than 1 percent of the federal budget is utilized for foreign aid, with a fraction of this amount to fund health programs.
We must be wary of this inflated popular perception, and recognize that making cuts to such a small sector of the budget will not salvage our economy, but unjustly dramatize the suffering of those affected by debilitating diseases.
Kentuckians are uniquely positioned to call upon Rogers to prioritize the well-being of millions of people over miniscule federal savings.
In 2003, President George W. Bush demonstrated American leadership in combating AIDS and prioritizing global health.
By calling on Rogers to preserve Bush's legacy, and asserting that saving lives aligns with our values as a state and nation, we can prevent such shortsighted and immoral solutions as cutting AIDS treatment programs.
Furthermore, pressure from his constituency during ensuing negotiations may remind Rogers of the potential he possesses to reclaim a dwindling legacy.