Editor's note: The following editorial appeared Thursday in the Dallas Morning News.
During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama vowed to add $1 billion annually to the U.S. fund that George W. Bush and Congress created to fight AIDS in Africa and other developing nations.
Instead, as president, Obama proposed only a $366 million increase for the coming fiscal year which comes on top of another broken promise from last year. In 2009, he proposed spending only $165 million for PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Obama also wants to decrease America's commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria by $50 million.
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Congress, upon its return to work in September, should rebuff the president and make good on U.S. commitments to both funds. Some lawmakers seem willing to stand up, so we hope they succeed.
Desmond Tutu, the renowned South African cleric, certainly took the president to task in a recent New York Times op-ed for backing away from both funds. So have AIDS activists in the U.S. and the deans of nearly 40 medical and public health schools.
The pushback is important for several reasons.
First, lowered U.S. funding could result in 80,000 new patients not being served each year. In countries like Uganda and Zambia, waiting lists already have developed since the U.S. funding started declining. They have virtually no public health networks, so reduction in medical supplies and treatment there truly is a matter of life and death.
Second, the reductions send the wrong signal internationally. Many nations look to the U.S. for leadership in fighting global AIDS. When they see us back off, what incentive do they have to increase their investment?
Third, there's the public diplomacy aspect. U.S. humanitarian investment sends a message to other parts of the world, particularly places where people are poor and suffering. Instead of seeing the world's only superpower as only an oppressor, Americans are there with a helping hand.
Fiscal conservatives may rightly ask whether we can afford such spending. But money spent on foreign aid is a tiny fraction of federal spending, about $37 billion in a $3.5 trillion budget. And as Defense Secretary Robert Gates notes, investments in human capital can lead to stability in global trouble spots.
Some in the administration prefer shifting the focus from fighting global AIDS to battling other health problems, including those that afflict young mothers. Both are worthy goals, but why cut short AIDS funding when AIDS remains the leading worldwide killer of women in their reproductive years?
This is not a fight on which the U.S. can relent.