Yesterday President Obama stood before the United Nations and outlined his vision for the United States to continue the fight against global poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
"We will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people," Obama said, declaring that "the days when your development was dictated in foreign capitals must come to an end."
We won't have to wait long to see if the President is serious about translating his words into action. In two weeks the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will hold its donor conference and ask for commitments from countries, including the U.S. As the premier global health organization on the cutting edge of bottom-up, accountable, results-focused development aid, the Global Fund is the perfect fit for the President's new strategy. The U.S.'s commitment to the Fund will be our first indication of whether the President's new development policy is worth the paper it's printed on.
Much of what the President outlined in his speech are well-established principles of effective foreign aid. As a unique public-private partnership, the Global Fund has led the world in putting these principles into practice since it started disbursing resources for health programs in 2003.
Rather than dictating the use of aid, the Global Fund turns the traditional donor-recipient relationship on its head. Countries develop their own proposals for building their health systems to fight killer diseases. Critically, the Global Fund insists that the proposals are not just created by governments, but that the planning include community organizations, faith-based groups, health care workers, the private sector, and people who are directly affected by AIDS, TB, and malaria. This inclusive, bottom-up approach to planning is so ingrained in the Global Fund's business model that it will reject an otherwise quality proposal on principle if the communities affected by the aid haven't had their say on how it will be spent.
If the proposals are judged technically sound by an independent panel of experts, then funding is disbursed and results are tracked. Programs that perform well and meet their targets see continued funding. Those that fail do not.
Throughout this process of developing, funding, and evaluating health programs, the Global Fund remains radically transparent. Every rejected proposal, every organization funded, every grant evaluation - the good, the bad, and the ugly - are all available to the public on the Global Fund's web site.
All this sounds a lot like how the U.S. should be - to borrow a phrase from the President - "changing the way we do business." But so far the President's budget doesn't seem to match his priorities. As a Senator and presidential candidate Obama was a strong supporter of the Global Fund, and just last month Secretary Clinton hailed the Global Fund as a "new model" for foreign aid that has had a "transformative impact on the world." In spite of this promising rhetoric, President Obama shocked global health advocates by proposing a cut to the Global Fund in his budget.
President Obama called on his fellow UN delegates to "move beyond the old, narrow debate over how much money we're spending" and focus instead on "whether we're actually making improvements in people's lives." The Global Fund has certainly produced tangible results, helping save 5.7 million lives since 2003. But let's face it: money matters. Right now the Global Fund needs donors to step up and invest in accelerating its life-saving work. Drugs to treat AIDS, TB and malaria are highly cost effective, but they are not free. Tens of thousands of health workers are ready to tackle the biggest killer diseases in their communities, but they need salaries, training, and supplies.
Over 100 members of Congress signed a letter to President Obama urging him to pledge $6 billion over the next three years to the Global Fund. Since every $1 the U.S. contributes has historically been matched with $2 from other donors, that's a smart investment. With the right funding commitments in place, the Global Fund can help ensure that no child is born with HIV by 2015, that we end the public health threat of malaria as we know it, and emerging drug resistant strains of TB are brought under control.
At the conclusion of his speech outlining a new approach to fighting global poverty, President Obama said: "together, we can realize the future that none of us can achieve alone." For the Global Fund the future is now. Soon we'll know whether the U.S. is serious about catching up.