Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

What Does the American Public Know About Aid?

May 21, 2012

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, not as much as they could.

I'm only the messenger.

To start with: just what are we talking about? Foreign aid from the United States encompasses funding the government provides to developing countries; everything from disaster relief (when the U.S. government contributes emergency assistance in the form of money or food, for example) to long-term funding to address poverty, hunger, and global health issues.

If we, as a global community, are to succeed in ending extreme hunger and poverty and improving the health of the poorest, we must find ground-breaking ways to gather and share stories of aid working well.

Tom Scott

So what exactly do most Americans think about aid?

A new Kaiser Family Foundation survey, just released, aimed to answer that question.The survey focuses mostly on the assistance provided specifically for global health improvement in the world's poorest countries. It's funding for everything from bed nets to protect people from getting stung by malarial mosquitoes, to assistance to get vaccines to children to protect against preventable diseases, to family planning access for the millions of women who want contraception.

First off, according to the survey, on average, Americans believe that 27 percent of the budget is spent on aid. True or false?

False.  In fact, only 1 percent of the U.S. budget is spent on foreign aid.

True or False: Most Americans believe we're spending too much money on aid to improve global health.

Again, False. In fact, the survey found that two-thirds of Americans believe we're spending too little or the right amount on global health. (Which is really interesting considering the first point above?!); even in the current economic climate.

True or False: Americans of all political parties responded in the majority that the U.S. spends too little or just the right amount on global health.

True. In fact, whether you're a Democrat, Independent, or Republican you feel this way. The percentages for Democrats and Independents are higher than for Republicans but regardless of political affiliation, most Americans say we're not spending enough to help improve the health and lives of the people of the world who need our help the most.

I'll leave you with one more piece of information which of course is so important in all of this. Just how much does the news media talk about aid? And in a way that people can truly relate to?

"...roughly half of Americans (52%) now say the news media spends too little time covering global health issues, up from 41 percent in 2010."

It's critical that our news media cover these issues in a way that touches people, and helps people to understand exactly what's happening in the countries, cities, villages, towns, health centers and homes of people around the world. So what's holding us back from increasing aid - getting more in the way of vaccines, seeds, clean water and more to those who desperately need the help?

It's true that in the midst of the current economic climate, increasing aid is not an easy sell. But there's more to the story. Drew Altman, Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO, wrote in a column discussing the implications of the survey results:

"One of the strongest predictors of support was the belief that aid would make a difference. This means that documenting the impact of assistance and then communicating that to opinion leaders and the public is absolutely critical for advocates of foreign aid and global health."

Tom Scott, of the Gates Foundation, in his recent post, Will Your Story of Aid Change the World? says that this is big problem - and a problem that the foundation aims to address:

"We constantly hear stories of corruption, waste, and broken systems when it comes to aid. But that’s not the whole story. Effective aid programs help developing countries become self-sufficient...If we, as a global community, are to succeed in ending extreme hunger and poverty and improving the health of the poorest, we must find ground-breaking ways to gather and share stories of aid working well. We must bring the data behind those stories to life."

If you'd like to read the survey yourself, it's here. I'm curious to know what people think. Does this paint an accurate picture?

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