U.S. President Barack Obama delighted malaria fighters with his State of the Union pledge to ask the Congress for more money to help end the disease. Now the administration has released its budget request — and more details about what it will do with an extra $200 million.
The additional funding would bring the President’s Malaria Initiative budget to $874 million for the next fiscal year, roughly a 30 percent increase over fiscal 2016. So what can $200 million buy you?
According to the administration, if Congress agrees to appropriate and shift funding as Obama requested last week, PMI would be able to: open programs in three new countries in West Africa — Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Cameroon — and expand its Burkina Faso program to the entire country; “accelerate elimination efforts” in Cambodia and Zambia; procure 13.7 million insecticide treated bed nets; and “accelerate research, development and evaluation of new malaria tools focused on better diagnostics, vector control and medicines.”
President Barack Obama may have delivered on his promise of a (barely) shorter State of the Union address, but it was still stacked with references to foreign affairs and development. Here's what he touched on — along with a few ways for you to catch up on each topic.
The $200 million request includes $71 million in “new money” and $129 million repurposed from the remaining pool of Ebola emergency funding Congress supplied last year. The administration could face an uphill battle explaining why “extra” money should be spent on another disease, at the same time seeking another $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus in the U.S. and internationally.
The administration’s willingness to “elevate the political and diplomatic game” and use the international bully pulpit to champion malaria eradication as a global health priority is just as important as the number of additional dollars, according to Josh Blumenfeld, managing director of Malaria No More.
“You could spend $100 million on a program and achieve a huge amount of results, and if you didn’t talk about it to anybody … your results would probably stop there,” Blumenfeld said.
For his part, Obama — or at least his communications team — took to Twitter Monday to back up the request with a snapshot of what’s been achieved in the fight to end a disease that kills upwards of half a million people each year.
“We were really thrilled this was in the State of the Union, because for an American president there’s no greater bully pulpit for either the American public, the Congress, or frankly the world. … This is at the very epicenter of American politics now,” Blumenfield said.
This week Secretary of State John Kerry will testify in multiple hearings on Capitol Hill to defend the president’s budget request. Republican lawmakers have largely condemned the proposed spending plan and some have vowed not to consider it at all.
The Roll Back Malaria Action Plan estimates that eradicating malaria would cost $5.9 billion per year from 2011 to 2020. Despite the hefty price tag, malaria interventions are often regarded as a “best buy” in global health, an area where relatively small investments can yield relatively big results.
Malaria efforts have enjoyed relatively strong bipartisan support. Advocates for this funding bump can only hope it’s strong enough.
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