At a webcast Wednesday, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) invited global health experts to discuss President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal and what it means for global health. In particular, panelists attempted to address the implications of the President’s proposed $542.9 million cut from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in his fiscal year 2013 budget request, especially in light of his World AIDS Day vow to increase the number of people on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment to 6 million by the end of 2013.
Beth Tritter, managing director of the Glover Park Group, expressed confusion about what the message is behind deep cuts in global health programs and said there needs to be more clarity on what the administration’s plan is for global health going forward. It’s unclear whether these cuts represent a change in trajectory of the U.S.’s role in global health or if the cuts are a temporary measure that need to be taken in a time of economic austerity, she said.
Larry Nowels, a consultant with the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign and the ONE Campaign, agreed with Tritter and wondered aloud whether the administration has deprioritized certain areas, like bilateral HIV/AIDS, or if greater efficiencies in service delivery have allowed for smaller budgets. They also agreed that the global health community needs to hear more from the administration about what the story is behind their proposed cuts.
When moderator Jen Kates of KFF asked Ambassador Mark Dybul, co-director of the Global Health Law Program at Georgetown University Law Center’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, how the administration will meet global HIV/AIDS targets with a reduced budget, he said that the cost for the government to treat people living with HIV has dramatically decreased thanks to greater efficiencies in service delivery and reduced prices for antiretroviral drugs. The cost of delivering HIV drugs has dramatically decreased as well, and task shifting to community health workers further reduces treatment costs. Because of these and other measures, he said, PEPFAR will be able to accomplish more with less funding.
Although Dybul admitted that it is difficult to recover from a deep budget cut and reverse it, he explained that these cuts are not an indication of a downward spiral in global health funding for the future, and the current conversation should be about what amount of funding is right for this year and not assume it will be the same next year. U.S. Global AIDS Ambassador Eric Goosby has assured that PEPFAR will be able to reach their targets with a diminished budget by spending money in a more effective and efficient way, he said.
Click here to view the webcast.