Our long tradition of investing in humanitarian assistance and foreign aid represents the best in American exceptionalism. American foreign policy has long depended on the generosity of our citizens to help those in need around the world, supplying food aid, supporting global health programs and providing emergency assistance in response to natural disasters. Bipartisan support across multiple administrations in the fight to end malaria is the epitome of American greatness.

Malaria today

Since 2000, U.S. efforts to combat malaria has helped save more than 6 million lives, mostly in Africa, and contributed to the reduction of global mortality rates by more than 62 percent.

Malaria has ravaged populations across the globe for millennium, and is often referred to as the world’s oldest, deadliest disease. Even today, the mosquito is the deadliest animal on earth. In 2015 alone, 214 million people were infected with malaria and 429,000 died from the disease. It is most lethal in Africa, where 90 percent of malaria deaths occur, and is one of the top killers of children under five years old.

Malaria also takes a significant toll on the African economy; it is the leading cause of missed days of school and work on the continent, translating to billions in lost economic productivity.

LONG ROAD AHEAD: Millions of lives have been saved thanks to the U.S.'s efforts in combating Maleria, but the disease remains one of the top killers in Africa and has even managed to take a toll on their economy. 

Beginning prevention

Our fight against malaria began at home, in 1914, when Congress appropriated funding to help control the disease in malaria-endemic states. The main objective at the time was to reduce the burden of malaria among soldiers training in malaria-endemic states, and civilians living there.

“Since 2000, U.S. efforts to combat malaria have helped save more than 6 million lives, mostly in Africa, and contributed to the reduction of global mortality rates by more than 60 percent.”

In 1933, 30 percent of Tennessee River valley residents were at risk of contracting and dying from the disease. This fight eventually gave birth to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 1946, which was created under President Harry S. Truman to focus on ridding the country of malaria.

We eliminated the disease in 1951, at a time when the United States was also making essential and substantial financial commitments at home and abroad. For example, we passed the G.I. Bill for veterans returning home from war in 1944. In 1948, we began implementing the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-ravaged Europe. And in the early 1950s, President Eisenhower began advocating for the Interstate Highway System, which rapidly expanded our infrastructure. Our political leaders rejected the false choice between advancing our interests at home and abroad.

Fighting malaria globally

Today, we are the world’s leader in the fight to end malaria globally. In 2005, President George W. Bush created the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) with an aspirational, seemingly unattainable goal: reduce malaria deaths by 50 percent to 70 percent in 15 countries in five years.

Thanks to sustained bipartisan support from Congress and the leadership of both Presidents Bush and Obama, U.S. funding to combat malaria — both through PMI and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria — has helped drastically reduce malaria mortality rates.

STABILITY, PROSPERITY AND PEACE: By aiding in the fight to end malaria, the U.S. can continue to strengthen its foreign policy efforts and by further developing relationships with other countries. 

This assistance not only advances our moral leadership and saves lives, but also promotes our strategic, economic and security interests. The choice is not binary; we can both do good in the world, and do good by our country.

Yet it is often America’s most experienced military leaders who best understand that diplomacy and foreign assistance are essential to promoting stability, prosperity and peace. Our foreign policy is most effective when rooted in the principles of smart power, the three mutually reinforcing pillars of diplomacy, defense and development.

In order to improve the lives of Americans at home, we must continue to advance our interests abroad. We must follow the courage and wisdom of past presidents and invest in smart, effective policies that also reflect the best of our humanitarian traditions and spirit. Keeping the world on the path to eliminating malaria in our lifetimes is one of the many exceptional American missions we must complete.