When President Trump threatened to cut off $4 billion in foreign aid, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition emailed how cuts could limit the response to outbreaks of the deadly ebola virus. Concerned, I immediately thought of John Germ, past president of Rotary International, who spoke at Glynn Hodges’ recent Mastermind meeting. Yes, we were inspired by his story of being the first in his family to graduate college. And we were speechless at his stories of navigating outdated military planes on the verge of crashing. We empathized with his struggles to finish college while marrying and having his first child. But it was his dedication to eradicating polio world-wide, his ability to see the challenge as an invitation, that held us in awe.
At one time, there were 1,000 cases of polio per day in 125 countries. Many people thought that eradicating it was impossible. Today, there are only 40 cases in just 3 countries. The cost at $900 million per year is not small. But John and Rotary International know that their efforts must continue if Africa is to remain polio free. That includes Nigeria, where poor sewage and contaminated water created a polio hotbed.
Polio is gone from Africa thanks to foreign aid and groups like Rotary. But the battle against ebola is ongoing. In the earlier 2014-2016 ebola outbreak, more than 11,000 people died. Doctors Without Borders say that today’s ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the worst outbreak recorded anywhere. In July, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared this outbreak an international concern. The epicenter is a region with sparse resources and violent conflict which are contributing to ebola’s spread. This is hardly the time to remove our investment in managing that disease and the circumstances that encourage its spread.
One of those circumstances is the internet. During the earlier outbreak in West Africa, Russian internet trolls disseminated information that accused the US of bringing Ebola to that region. While that attack targeted America’s global influence, it also put lives at risk. The UN Secretary-General says that, “the spread of false information poses a threat to people’s lives, health security and to public health systems across the world.” The resulting attacks on outsiders in medical roles as well as on clinics should be seen not only as weaponized health disinformation, but as a national defense issue.
Nothing good can come of cutting off foreign aid. The fight against internet disinformation is only going to ratchet up and there’s already a shortages of personnel, equipment, medicines, and funds. And if we cut off aid for humanitarian projects that offset conflict and violence, all we do is help spread the disease and damage our reputation online and onsite.
Need more reasons to continue our foreign aid to ebola containment? Think of our competitors in Africa. China has been contributing to Africa’s battle against Ebola for some time and helped develop the Africa Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Africa CDC). As for Russia, reportedly, they’ve already developed a revolutionary Ebola vaccine and shipped it to Africa. Where are we? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently said that it will fund Merck’s manufacturing of its investigational Ebola vaccine over the next year.
This is President Trump second attempt at eliminating foreign aid. Reportedly, he’s backed down, but a third try is likely. We have to step up, not wind down. Insist that our government be like John Germ, get motivated by the challenge, be determined to succeed, and be proud to invest in doing so.