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.
But because these programs are less than one percent of the budget, it is analogous to getting a haircut when we need emergency surgery. We support a balanced budget, but to do so will require deep cuts in the mandatory spending that account for two-thirds of federal spending—not much smaller discretionary accounts like foreign assistance, which represents less than two-thirds of one percent of the budget. For less than a penny on the dollar, we provide the critical safety net for people around the globe who live on less than a dollar a day. These deep cuts, sadly, could mean millions will die.
Among the top reasons evangelicals expressed for voting for Trump included enhancing our national security and a renewed commitment to a culture of life. Evangelicals voted for change of culture and for hope that a new administration would make America great again.
As a nation, our leadership in health and development assistance is first and foremost a moral issue. Our aid has uplifted vulnerable populations worldwide, providing children and families basic health care with cheap medication and nutrition. Without such simple tools, many would otherwise die from a cold, a mosquito bite, diarrhea, or lack of access to clean water.
From the Bush to Obama administrations, Republicans and Democrats agreed that development assistance is a critical tool for our national security strategy. Before that, President Ronald Reagan said the same: “Our national interests are inextricably tied to the security and development of our friends and allies.”
Economists and historians posit that when countries fail economically, they become breeding grounds for terrorism and conflict. General David Petraeus, Admiral James Stavridis, and our new Secretary of Defense James Mattis value the “soft power” that comes through development alongside diplomacy. This strategy undergirds our American military might around the world.
At the recent Munich Security Conference, the Irish rock star Bono, who co-founded the ONE Campaign, said, “Development without security is impossible, but security without development is unsustainable.” If we want a stronger, safer America, full funding for foreign assistance is critical.
For Christians, such aid also aligns with our convictions to care for the poor and support a culture of life. From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures compel us to care for the marginalized—to care for the widow, the orphan, and the refugee. Moses, Ruth, Solomon, and the Prophets call us to take a stand for those who have no voice. Jesus models healing the sick, raising the dead, and cleansing the lepers. He implores us to prisons, to the naked, to the hungry and thirsty. And James tells us this is the heart of religion (1:27). The single thread of the Bible is to lay down our lives for one another.
The global church does play such a large role in health care globally. But in 2017, we know the church simply cannot tackle all the health and development issues alone. The burden is too great.
More than 21.5 million AIDS patients require clinical care to access life-saving anti-retroviral medications. In areas where malaria is a threat, 713 million people need bed nets to prevent infection. In developing countries, education and contraceptives can help the 120 million women of childbearing age who want safe, healthy timing and spacing of their pregnancies—and reduce the risk of maternal and infant death. Worldwide, 1 in 3 people suffer from malnutrition.
We need government infrastructure and resources to solve global disease and end needless deaths of mothers and children. When the church partners with government, it can take the helm with prayer, philanthropy, and advocacy. The church brings to the partnership its support and moral direction.
As Paul might say, we need to fight this good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith until the day of completion. This day might still be in our lifetime.
We need to let our President and our Congress know that they have our permission—in fact, our insistence—to fully fund foreign assistance for health and development. We can do this with less than a penny of each dollar in the US budget. This isn’t tithing—it is less than one percent.
Let us heed the call of the Scriptures to uplift the poor, save the lives of millions, and give the world’s poorest the chance at a life of flourishing and abundance. This can be a win-win for America and the world. We can enhance our own national security with development assistance. And from a moral standpoint, we can save the lives of millions, and we can stand for a commitment to a culture of life for every human being.
This worldwide concern is part of what makes America so great.
Bill Frist, MD, is a former US Senate Majority Leader, surgeon, and chairman of Hope Through Healing Hands, a global health organization committed to improving the quality of life for communities around the world using health as a currency for peace.
Jenny Eaton Dyer, PhD, is the executive director of Hope Through Healing Hands and director of the Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide.