New study on Americans’ opinions on the role of the US in global health

Today, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a new study on the role of the US (and our donor dollars) in global health. Reassuringly, it seems that messaging around just how small the global health and foreign aid budget is, as a proportion of the full USG budget, is starting to get through. Approximately 39% of respondents think we spend less than 5% of the US budget on global health; the real figure is less than 0.5%, but that’s more hopeful to me than the inflated figures Americans espoused we spent on foreign aid in the recent World Opinion Poll.

Even better, two-thirds of Americans believe we are spending the right amount, or too little, on global health—somewhat ironic given that Congress just slashed the global health budget for FY2013 for the first time in years recently. If the vast majority of Americans support global health spending, maintaining the global health budget in an election year shouldn’t be as great of a controversy as it seems to be.

A nice snapshot of the results was published by KFF President Dr. Drew Altman, including this useful graph summarizing some of the key findings on the predictors of support for increased global health spending calculated by the survey.

I’d be interested in looking at crosstabs of some of the results; for example, are people who have traveled to developing countries even more likely to believe that spending on global health leads to progress? I’m delighted (and not terribly surprised) to see young people showing increased support for global health programs compared to their elders.

From my cursory review of the report and the summary findings circulated by KFF, efforts to educate Americans on the impact of our spending on global health must continue. Technical partners, implementors, advocates, think tanks, and donors each have stories (and data) to share illustrating the impact of global health programs; making those stories and that data accessible and compelling seems critical at this juncture.

Often times, championing the successes of our programs through peer reviewed journal publications, success stories, blog posts, and other outlets can be tough to manage when the end of a project is fast approaching and our time and efforts have been invested in maintaining the technical rigor of the project rather than communicating what we’ve achieved.  The results from the KFF survey, showing that “the ultimate obstacle to greater public support is the need to make the case effectively that aid is not ripped off and makes a difference,” place the onus on us, as global health professionals and advocates, to share our successes widely, rigorously and with enthusiasm.

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