As the Trump administration reviews business proposals for building the president's promised border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, the Harvard Undergraduate Global Health Forum would like to call attention to the serious harm that the administration's insistence on closing U.S. borders and withdrawing American foreign aid will cause to global health.
The U.S. is the country best positioned to help coordinate responses to global epidemics. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 and 2015 demonstrated that U.S. aid and coordination can save hundreds of thousands of lives. In September 2014, at which point 3,700 Ebola cases had been confirmed in the region, the Centers for Disease Control predicted that the number of cases would rise to 1.4 million by January 20, 2015, if the existing trends in transmission continued without additional intervention. Spearheaded by the CDC, a bolstered U.S. response that contributed training, equipment, labs, and personnel decelerated the spread of the virus. The coordinated international response limited the spread of the disease to roughly 22,000 cases by January 14, 2015.
President Trump joined the ill-informed chorus of public figures at the time calling for an air travel ban to and from Ebola-affected countries. This demand was one of the most misleading public health claims during the epidemic. A travel ban would have created an air traffic bottleneck, preventing much-needed equipment and personnel from reaching West Africa and slowing Ebola's spread.
Trump's political agenda to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to ban travel from six Muslim countries, and to shrink the size of the State Department is indicative of a dangerous mindset that prioritizes isolation over the leadership and cooperation needed to coordinate a response to global health crises.