Yalies care about global health — at least passively. You may read the news, think you’re up on current issues. You know all about what’s going on in Egypt, who won at the Grammys, and even how the Jeopardy-playing supercomputer Watson works. But did you realize that the U.S. government, through looming budget cuts, could be denying crucial treatment and prevention to millions of people around the world? We study global health, debate it in the dining hall and even do service trips. Yet the future of global health lies in the balance, and we are doing almost nothing about it.
For several years now, the U.S. government has risen to the challenge of providing dignified care and disease prevention for millions across the globe, people who otherwise would have been unable to afford it. However, this progress may soon tragically come to a halt. This week, Congress introduced a continuing resolution with massive cuts to global health. The bill proposes public health cuts of $1.5 billion from Obama’s 2011 budget request, slashing global AIDS programs by over $850 million and reneging on our commitment to the Global Fund. The magnitude and ramifications of these cuts are unimaginable. If enacted, over 10 million bed-nets crucial to fighting malaria will not be distributed, half a million people living with AIDS will perish due to the shortfall in antiretroviral therapy, 60,000 women will lack the simple medication necessary to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies, and at least 372,000 people will be neither tested nor treated for tuberculosis.
While global health funding emerged relatively unscathed in Obama’s recently released 2012 budget, we must act now to prevent cuts this year and also to ensure that next year does not result in the same tragic decreases that currently loom.
So what are we Yalies doing about it? Many of us study global health. A glance through this semester’s course offerings show titles such as “HIV and AIDS in Africa,” “Strategic Thinking in Global Health” and “Intro to African Politics.” We take pre-medical science courses and hope to practice medicine internationally. We study the ethnographies of African communities with an eye to health indicators. We slave over economic cost-benefit analyses of development aid for health. Outside the classroom, we even play a more active role, spending our spring breaks and summers volunteering, using our vacations to assist in clinics and working on disease prevention campaigns worldwide.
But beyond a single gesture, do we care on a systemic level? Do we care enough to be one small piece of a larger movement working to improve the lives of millions? The movement may not have the allure of international travel, the public recognition of an internship, or the satisfaction of a grade — but global health can’t always be about the credit we get or the amazing experience we have. At its core, it’s about the people dying from preventable diseases, children losing parents, HIV-positive individuals who have to stop antiretroviral treatment because international funding has been cut — men, women, and children who will have to live with the knowledge that they will inevitably die of AIDS thanks to a budgetary two-step in Washington, D.C.
But working for systemic change — daring to call yourself an activist — is not without rewards. Imagine the satisfaction of being part of a movement to pass a federal budget that fulfills America’s responsibility to the world’s health: a budget that will improve the lives of millions of people.
Don’t underestimate the power we have. In a democracy, being a constituent carries some weight, and Yale students hail from districts around the country. You could be from Miami, Ohio, in the district of House Speaker John Boehner, or from Somerset, Kentucky, in Congressman Hal Rogers’s district. If you and 10 of your friends from high school call Congressman Boehner’s office and ask that he oppose cuts to global health funding, his staff might notice. He might get a memo about it, he might realize that potential voters care about global health, and it might influence his actions in the House. Making a phone call, writing a letter, sending an e-mail, attending a public demonstration, and telling some friends to do the same could have an enormous impact. Especially if we all do it.
Activism works. Because of the efforts of HIV activists, antiretroviral drugs and treatments for a host of other diseases are now available for low-income individuals around the world. Now is a pivotal moment in the fight for global health justice. Join us.
David Carel is a sophomore in Pierson College. Helen Jack is a junior in Saybrook College. They are members of the Student Global Health and AIDS Coalition.