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Have geopolitics influenced decisions on American health foreign assistance efforts during the Obama presidency?



This study sought to characterize the possible relationship between US geopolitical priorities and annual decisions on health foreign assistance among recipient nations between 2009 and 2016.


Data on total planned United States (US) foreign aid and health aid were collected for the 194 member nations of the World Health Organization (WHO) from publicly available databases. Trends in per-capita spending were examined between 2009 and 2016 across the six regions of the WHO (Africa, Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Western Pacific). Data on US national security threats were obtained from the Council on Foreign Relations' annual Preventive Priorities Survey. Multivariable regression models were fitted specifying planned health aid as the dependent variable and threat level of a recipient aid nation as the primary independent variable.


Across the aggregate 80 planned recipient countries of US health aid over the duration of the study period, cumulative planned per-capita spending was stable (US$ 0.65 in both 2009 and 2016). The number of annual planned recipients of this aid declined from 74 in 2009 to 56 in 2016 (24.3% decline), with planned allocations decreasing in the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, and Europe; corresponding increases were observed in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Western Pacific. Regression analyses demonstrated a dose-response, whereby higher levels of threat were associated with larger declines in planned spending (critical threat nations: b = -3.81; 95% confidence interval (CI) -5.84 to -1.78, P ≤ 0.001) and one-year lagged (critical threat nations: b = -3.91; 95% CI, -5.94 to -1.88, P ≤ 0.001) analyses.


Higher threat levels are associated with less health aid. This is a novel finding, as prior studies have demonstrated a strong association between national security considerations and decisions on development aid.

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