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How to Leverage U.S. Global Health Dollars More Effectively

Interviewee: Lee Wells, Director of External Affairs, Touch Foundation
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson, News Editor, CFR.org
March 11, 2009

Sub-Saharan Africa faces a long list of public-health challenges, including a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, a shortage of trained doctors and nurses, and inadequate medical facilities. Lee Wells of the Touch Foundation says the organization's experience in a country facing all of these challenges, Tanzania, shows training of healthcare workers is particularly important. Such workers are needed for delivering effective HIV/AIDS and malaria programs as well as providing a broader medical infrastructure. Wells says Tanzania only has 1,200 doctors for a population of 40 million and needs another 80,000 healthcare workers to provide basic care according to World Health Organization estimates. He says training health workers in their home countries is a cost-effective approach; in Tanzania, it only costs $2,500 per year for a nurse's training.

Overall, the global health funds initiated by the Bush administration to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis have contributed billions of dollars for programs in sub-Saharan Africa. President Barack Obama's budget for fiscal 2010 calls for a $4.5 billion increase over last year's allotment for foreign aid. The current financial crisis has caused a downturn in private foundation support for global health aid. As a result, Wells says, U.S. health funding, which in Tanzania has amounted to over $800 million since 2003 to combat HIV/AIDS, is "more important than ever." However, he suggests more needy individuals would benefit from U.S. aid if Washington allowed a change in disbursement rules to permit funding for non-disease-specific health projects.


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