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U.S. Should Maintain Funding For Successful Public Health Programs In Afghanistan

“[F]inanced largely by American foreign aid, [Afghanistan's public health care system] has produced the most rapid increase in life expectancy observed anywhere on the planet,” Justin Sandefur, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, writes in an Atlantic opinion piece. “In terms of lives saved, it is as if the entire Syrian tragedy were averted thanks to a U.S. aid program few Americans had ever heard of,” he states and reviews some of the program’s successes. “Despite these successes, the health program has met resistance from an unexpected source: auditors,” Sandefur writes, noting “the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR [in September] issued a report [.pdf] calling for the suspension of USAID’s $236 million in aid for basic health care in Afghanistan.”

“While the U.S. military can produce receipts for bombs and bullets bought in America, the Afghan government struggles to do the same for vaccines dispensed in remote rural clinics. Thus, from a government auditor’s perspective, it is riskier to give Afghan citizens health care than to shoot their insurgents,” Sandefur continues. “Aid will never be a substitute for a military strategy. Aid is not a counter-terrorism policy. But the lesson of USAID in Afghanistan is not that help is futile; on the contrary,” he writes, concluding, “Beyond hunting Osama Bin Laden to make America safer, American leaders have sold the war in Afghanistan in lofty terms, as an altruistic fight for the benefit of Afghan women and children terrorized under Taliban rule. When presented with the means and the opportunity to save the lives of thousands of those very same mothers and infants, if America retreats on the grounds of procurement rules and auditing queries, this narrative becomes hard to maintain” (10/10).