While working in Haiti for almost 20 years in public health and development, I have seen firsthand the incredible impact that well-managed and well-funded programs can have on the lives of vulnerable populations, especially women and children. Of the many global health and development programs that I have had the good fortune to be involved in, one of the most successful has been with the South Florida-based Project Medishare for Haiti, where I currently serve as executive director.
In 2008, we launched an Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) program with funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a bipartisan-supported U.S. government initiative started in 2003 in response to the global HIV/AIDS crisis. Annually, our OVC program supports 450 children living with or affected by HIV. Thanks to the program, the children remain in school, receive regular checkups and medication, and are provided with the psychosocial care they need to thrive and reach their full potential. I personally have seen the positive effect our OVC program has on these children and their families — their education, health and overall well-being has greatly improved their lives.
Being at the forefront of health care in Haiti, I have witnessed the overall progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria over the years, not only in rural communities but countrywide. Part of the reason is because Haiti is one of 13 PEPFAR priority countries in the world. Since the earthquake in 2010, both new HIV infections and deaths have decreased by about 25 percent, a tremendous decline. Another reason is because of the support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria funding in Haiti.
These interventions have led Haiti on the road to malaria elimination even though it is on the only island in the Caribbean where malaria is still endemic. Additionally, HIV and tuberculosis remain a threat to the population as collectively the fourth leading cause of death in Haiti. In 2016, there were 150,000 people living with HIV, but only 55 percent of these people had access to antiretroviral treatment. So the fight isn’t won, yet.
Worldwide, working hand in hand with PEPFAR, these programs have saved millions of lives: AIDS-related deaths have fallen by nearly 50 percent since peaking in 2005, 53 million lives have been saved through effective TB diagnosis and treatment since 2000, and malaria death rates have declined by 62 percent from 2000 to 2015.
Yet, President Trump recently released his annual budget and called for drastic cuts to global health and development funding.
Within the month, Congress’ planning session for the 2019 federal budget will soon begin, and Sen. Marco Rubio will have the opportunity to lead on the Appropriations Committee to restore this funding to fiscal year 2017 levels to continue the momentum of incredible progress of saving millions of lives, around the world and in Haiti.
Sen. Rubio notes, “Foreign aid is not charity. We must make sure it is well spent, but it is less than 1 percent of the budget and critical to our national security.” He understands that the less than a quarter of 1 percent of the U.S. budget spent on global health is one of our greatest investments in not only saving lives, but also creating a safer world, building stronger economic opportunity, and advancing improved global public health.
On this issue, I could not agree with Sen. Rubio more, and programs such as Project Medishare’s OVC program would not be possible without humanitarian aid and specifically U.S. investment. We take great pride in providing this program to families in need in the community it serves, and I hope similar programs are able to keep helping Haiti to build strong health programs with the continued support of the United States.
The people of Haiti are resilient, intelligent, hard-working people who want nothing more than to overcome the challenging circumstances that they have faced. They are working to improve their health and making incredible progress, but they cannot yet go it alone. We urge Sen. Rubio to do everything he can to continue fighting for steady U.S. support of the Global Fund, PEPFAR, and the humanitarian leadership that is a deep source of pride for America.
Renee Lewis is the executive director of Project Medishare. She began her career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Haiti working in community health, and then spent more than 10 years working for large non-profit organizations and an international development firm managing both small and large-scale projects in developing countries.