As part of a coordinated humanitarian response during and after a natural disaster or in times of conflict, investing in health care and services is the key to saving millions of lives. U.S. funding provides essential health care, such as emergency medical interventions, nutritional support, and access to clean water and sanitation. Strategic, timely, and effective action by the U.S. humanitarian and health funding agencies — including OFDA, PRM, and CDC — has allowed lifesaving interventions to reach millions of people throughout the world. In 2017 alone, the U.S. government provided $1.6 billion for disaster response activities.
The United States is also committed to responding to outbreaks of infectious disease, most recently during the epidemics of Ebola in West Africa and Zika worldwide. Currently only one-third of countries are prepared to prevent, detect, and respond to these global risks. The United States is also invested in improving the health systems of developing countries to help prevent and contain future outbreaks abroad and domestically.
Recent disasters such as Hurricane Maria, which impacted several Caribbean countries in September 2017, and the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which killed nearly 11,310 people, saw not only a large outpouring of public and private U.S. financial support, but also a large number of volunteers serving in emergency-affected areas. Americans support U.S. investments in humanitarian health because such investments reflect a core American value: assisting those in need. In response to Hurricane Maria, OFDA provided Dominica with water, sanitation, and hygiene services, as well as emergency-relief supplies that included 1,600 blankets, 1,000 hygiene kits, 400 rolls of plastic sheeting, and 2,400 water containers, benefiting at least 20,000 people impacted by the disaster. Additionally, OFDA Disaster Assistance Response Team staff were deployed to conduct assessments, coordinate with humanitarian and government actors, and support response cooperation. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, $5.4 billion in emergency funding was provided to USAID, CDC, and the National Institutes of Health to establish Ebola treatment units and community care facilities; distribute personal protective equipment; engage in community outreach, communication and mobilization efforts; and provide logistical support.
While many emergencies can never be perfectly predicted or entirely prevented, the resulting loss of life can be greatly reduced through appropriate mitigation and preparedness efforts. The United States should remain steadfast in its leadership role of helping to build resilient health systems in low-income countries, responding quickly and efficiently when emergencies occur, and coordinating and supporting efforts in post-emergency recovery. Since many issues arising from large-scale emergencies require long-term solutions, the United States should also continue supporting countries after the initial disaster period to help address the most critical health needs and shorten the recovery phase.