July 11, 2012

The human impact of budget cuts to global health programs

Research Fellow
The American Foundation for AIDS Research

George Fistonich is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California with a Master of Public Health degree, and currently serves as a research and policy fellow at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. He wrote this guest post about a new amfAR analysis that details the human impact of possible federal budget cuts on global health programs.

amfAR recently released a new analysis that outlines the potential effects of budget sequestration on global health programs, using updated figures to reflect recent and accurate estimates. As our analysis illustrates, cutting funding for global health programs—including those that support access to lifesaving HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria tools and programs that fund research for the next generation of global health products—would barely make a dent in reducing the US federal deficit. However, cuts to global health and health research programs would have a crippling impact on people around the world.

“Sequestration” is a fiscal process by which automatic, indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts would be made to most budget line-items at a certain set percentage. This process was included as a provision in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which would trigger sequestration at the start of the 113th Congress in January, unless Congress is able to pass $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions by the end of this year.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that sequestration would lead to an 8.4 percent reduction in funding for non-entitlement federal programs, including all global health and health research and development programs. Under the rules of sequestration, a total of $109.4 billion would be cut for fiscal year 2013, of which nearly $690 million would be taken from global health programs. This cut to global health represents a negligible 0.6 percent of the total deficit reductions for that year, but would lead to devastating human impact worldwide.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama both set an ambitious goal last year by announcing the United States’ intent to create an AIDS-free generation. Sequestration would not only undermine this achievable goal, but would undermine the progress we have made so far in providing treatment and care for millions of people worldwide, restrict funding for groundbreaking AIDS research, and ultimately result in thousands of unnecessary deaths in the next year alone.

amfAR’s analysis estimates that an 8.4 percent cut to bilateral funding through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), and TB programs would lead to the following in 2013:

Sequestration would also lead to the following in 2013 alone due to cuts in multilateral investments:

Sequestration would not only limit access to currently available treatment and prevention tools, leading to an increase in HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, and childhood deaths—it would also hinder research into new tools that are critically needed to fight these diseases. Cutting these programs would do nothing to reduce the federal deficit, and Congress must therefore work to prevent sequestration and protect funding for global health and research and development.

Full text of the analysis, including methods for determining these estimates, can be found here.