By: Amy Hagopian
Citizens concerned about global health as well as conflict resolution should be deeply concerned that the budget passed by the House of Representatives eliminates funding for the United States Institute of Peace. The worst health indicators, the highest rates of gender based violence, and the most dismal prospects for health systems, occur in states affected by conflict and political instability. In such countries, moreover, the health sector has a key role to play in the post-conflict period in developing critically needed services and contributing to the emergence of a legitimate state.
The Institute of Peace is playing a unique and critical role in illuminating these issues and devising concrete solutions that have impact in the world. For example, it brought together humanitarian organizations and the U.S. military that developed agreed-upon guidelines that better protect aid workers and assure that people in need of assistance can get it. It has identified ways of improving the safety of health workers and patients in armed conflict based on the experience of polio vaccination programs conducted in the midst of war. Its review of health services in Afghanistan contributed to preservation of a program that prevents an estimated 100,000 child deaths a year.
USIP receives its funding from Congress but is not a federal agency. Its independence permits it to discuss issues like the role of health programs in counterinsurgency policy, the place of the health sector in addressing gender-based violence, and the prospects for health as “bridge to peace” in the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
USIP was not founded to focus on global health or on humanitarian assistance. But the fact that it contributes in these realms shows its enormous value – and how it is a bargain for our country and for people whose lives are so damaged by war.