This week on GatesNotes, Bill Gates published the first of a multi-part series on the importance of foreign aid. In this initial post, Gates specifically focused on how foreign aid makes Americans safer and the world more stable in three ways: by preparing for the next epidemic, stabilizing vulnerable countries, and shoring up national security.
You may remember the Ebola epidemic of 2014–16. It killed more than 11,000 people in three West African countries. Each of those deaths was a tragedy, but the epidemic could have been far worse. If it had spread to neighboring Nigeria, home to more than 180 million people and a busy international travel hub with daily flights to the world’s capitals, it would have been very hard to contain. It could have easily jumped the Atlantic and infected Americans, and spread throughout Europe or Asia.
Why didn’t that happen? One key reason is that a number of health workers were stationed in Nigeria as part of the global campaign to stamp out polio. As the Ebola epidemic took hold, they were quickly reassigned from polio to Ebola. They already had a system in place for identifying possible cases, tracking them, and reporting the data to people organizing the response. They helped contain the disease and keep it from spreading farther than it did.
The polio eradication program helped stop Ebola and saved countless people, including Americans. Its biggest public funder? The United States government.
In addition, Ebola may have been only a preview of what is to come. The next epidemic—say, a virulent flu as bad as the Spanish Flu of 1918—could be far worse. Epidemiologists estimate it could kill 30 million people, more than three times the population of New York City.
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Funding from the U.S. government helps keep that from happening. It helps other countries strengthen their health systems so they can identify dangerous diseases and contain them before they get out of control.
It is no accident that the Ebola epidemic hit hardest in three countries—Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—with especially weak health systems. Helping them improve makes it more likely that we can prevent a worldwide epidemic that destabilizes entire regions of the world and kills tens of millions of people.
Read the rest of the post at GatesNotes.