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Global Health and the American Responsibility

By: Elizabeth Walsh  

COVID-19 showed the world the economic, social, and political hardships that occur during an unchecked global health crisis. All of us saw our lives disrupted during the pandemic: Many of us lost family, friends, jobs—and, in one way or another, all of us lost a sense of routine. We are now collectively healing and moving forward, which is why we must use this time of global rebuilding to keep the global health conversation going and take action against global vaccine-preventable diseases before they turn into global crises. So — what can the United States do? And why is it America’s place to do something?  

The United States must lead in this arena is because the statistics are staggering and can no longer be ignored. One in five children do not have access to life-saving vaccinations, and globally, a child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease every 20 seconds. The United States is the largest funder of global health programs, with $12.2 million funding global health organizations. However, this budget is often changed due to politicized appropriations rather than on science. Furthermore, there has been a 57% increase in attacks on healthcare facilities since 2000. These attacks lead to data loss — especially when tracking newborn and infant vaccinations. It is such a detrimental part of violent conflict that the UN created a website —Surveillance System for Attacks on Healthcare (SSA) — to track how many attacks have occurred within a period of time. For example, since February 24, 2022, to the date of writing this article — July 3, 2023 — there have been 1067 attacks on healthcare facilities and other types of health-providing assets in Ukraine — resulting in a detrimental amount of patient information loss, which can take weeks to recover. 

To achieve full bipartisan support for apolitical global health needs, and to support the health of people in conflict zones, the United States should establish a baseline level of support to fund global health projects, based on tangible yearly data from the WHO and other IGOs — including outbreak risk zones and where Americans are populated within those zones. See it as a way for the United States to be a leader in global health, take better responsibility for fund disbursements, and protect Americans, American allies, and American interests overseas — all in one! Furthermore, the United States should take the initiative to measure this data and create global vaccination passports in collaboration with IGOs to track vaccine rates, especially in conflict zones — even creating a physical and cloud-based record of where and when someone received a certain vaccine, which could be accessible and verifiable by IGOs and humanitarian efforts, especially while helping newborns and infants in conflict-zones and fragile states.  

The current system for dispersing global health funds, though, is not nearly sufficient. As an advocate for the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life initiative, I experienced this deficiency in Washington, D.C., when I met with my New Jersey congressional representatives’ offices on Capitol Hill. When sitting with staffers from each office, they listened to my pitch, smiled, and said that their boss supported global health initiatives, but that they feared a cutdown in global healthcare spending in the appropriations bill. Something as essential as basic human health should not be decided in a politically charged bill — and vaccination access should not be politicized. Both should be regulated and maintained by facts.  

Taking away the humanity of it all, understanding how and why a child sick with diarrheal-induced rotavirus in Pakistan should be supported by an American bipartisan bill can be hard — and the age-old question, “But, what does this have to do with me?” comes into play. But consider, what if that child were treated by a Red Cross humanitarian worker who lives in New Jersey, came home, and developed rotavirus symptoms? What if that person came in contact with a newborn, and the newborn came down with rotavirus? The chain-of-disease could get very short, very fast— and can infiltrate even your home. The United States is a global leader, and as a leader, it is America’s job to revolutionize our way of thinking and acting on global health — for our sake, and that of the rest of the world.  

About the Author 

Elizabeth Walsh is an undergraduate of the Class of 2024 at Seton Hall University School of Diplomacy and International Relations, with a concentration in Russian and Eastern European Studies. She is a Red Cross Government Relations Intern, as well as a United Nation Foundation’s Shot@Life Champion. Following graduation, Elizabeth intends to enter law school in the Fall 2024, and aspires to practice humanitarian and human rights law. 

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