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Health research dollars don’t just save lives, they create jobs

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Global health spending added 200,000 jobs in the US in eight years

Children First. An Evening With UNICEF Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images for US Fund for UNICEF

American investment in global health research actually helps the US economy and creates jobs, returning $33 billion to the American economy and generating 200,000 jobs from 2007 to 2015, according to a new report from the Global Health Technologies Coalition. The report comes as President Donald Trump has proposed a budget that would cut $2.2 billion in global health spending.

From 2007 to 2015, the government invested nearly $14 billion in research and development for global health. This money was crucial to developing over 40 new drugs for diseases like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Trump’s new budget is unlikely to be fully implemented, but if his suggestions do go into effect, at least a million people will die of AIDS as a result of the lost funding.

Global health research investment has been stagnant or falling since 2009, excluding the billions in emergency funding set aside during the Ebola outbreak. Global health research spending from the US government usually goes to agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as more indirectly to universities doing research.

President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget includes deep cuts to both the NIH and CDC, which are key agencies that work on global health. Trump ran on an “America first” platform and prioritizes the economy and boosting American jobs over helping out abroad. But according to the report, 89 cents of every dollar invested in global health research in 2015 was invested within the US. This is an increase from 2012, when 64 cents of every dollar invested in global health research was invested domestically. Today’s finding suggests that the Trump administration — which campaigned on creating jobs, not destroying them — could bolster the American economy by simply investing in American research.

“Congress deliberating over funding for USAID and NIH and CDC, so this is just illustrating that all even relatively small amounts can produce so much,” says GHTC Director Jamie Bay Nishi. “Often with global health, the perception is that money is going overseas or into a black hole, and now we have some real data about how this does support the US.”

Nishi says it’s hard to give a total number of lives saved by the funding, but says one of the biggest successes is Coartem Dispersible, a malaria drug designed especially for children that has saved about 750,000 lives so far. Similarly, a 50-cent vaccine called MenAfriVac has already prevented about 378,000 deaths from meningitis, which is a dangerous swelling of the brain and spinal cord. It’s now on track to save $9 billion in treatment costs by 2020. This last part is key because investing money now can save millions later, as in the case of Ebola. The government spent about $3 billion during the outbreak, but could have spent much less if they’ve invested more earlier to help develop a vaccine, says Nishi.