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Advocates Highlight Foreign Aid's Success Stories Amid Talk Of Cuts


Earlier this year, President Trump, in his budget plan, proposed deep cuts in foreign aid, including a nearly 20 percent reduction in money to treat people with HIV worldwide. Well, now global health advocate Bill Gates is responding to the president's proposal with a new report. And we should mention that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a financial supporter of NPR's Global Health team. Here's NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: There's at least one thing Bill Gates and President Donald Trump agree on - the media doesn't always get things right. For Gates, the problem is the way foreign aid is covered. He says it focuses too much on failures.

BILL GATES: The nature of news is mostly to cover big setbacks - you know, a little bit of money was spent improperly, even though 99 percent of it was spent well. Which of those is going to get the news article? It's mostly setbacks. So that's why you have this misimpression.

DOUCLEFF: For example, news rarely mentions that some countries, like Rwanda and Ethiopia, have made dramatic progress in improving the health of its poorest families or that in the past three decades, the number of children who die each year has dropped from 12 million to less than 6 million worldwide.

GATES: You know, those are huge numbers. Most causes you talk about, it's, you know, tens of people, thousands people whose lives you're trying to save. Here it's literally, per year, millions.

DOUCLEFF: Now Gates is worried that this progress could stall, even slide backward. So his foundation has released a new analysis. They've teamed up with scientists at the University of Washington to predict what would happen if the U.S. and other countries reduce foreign aid.

GATES: So we're showing what's at stake.

DOUCLEFF: Especially when it comes to HIV. For the past 25 years, the U.S. has led the effort to treat people with HIV around the world. Timothy Hallett, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, wasn't involved in the study. He says if the U.S. cuts back funding even a modest amount, the global AIDS epidemic could bounce back rapidly.

TIMOTHY HALLETT: If things go wrong a little bit, that can lead to the infection spreading much faster than before. Things spiral out of control, and we rapidly get much worse outcomes.

DOUCLEFF: If cuts like these become real, within 15 years the rate of new HIV infections could return to the level seen during the peak of the global AIDS epidemic in the late 1990s.

Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "LIONHEART") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michaeleen Doucleff, PhD, is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. For nearly a decade, she has been reporting for the radio and the web for NPR's global health outlet, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, cross-cultural parenting, and women and children's health.