In 2014, the United States Government (USG) spent an estimated $5.3 billion on foreign assistance funding for health worldwide. The vast majority of this – about $3.1 billion – went towards slowing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Throughout the Southern Africa region, the USG also supports projects focused on water supply and sanitation, orphans and vulnerable children, tuberculosis, palliative care, the health workforce, and developing information sharing platforms for evidence-based decision-making and capacity development. Recently, our study tour delegates got to sit down with USG representatives and local leaders to hear about the impact of US investments in health and see what this funding is achieving.
South Africa: Low, middle income country
South Africa is the second highest recipient of USG assistance for HIV/AIDS assistance worldwide, falling only slightly behind Kenya. Since 2004, PEPFAR has invested $4.2 billion in the South African response to the dual epidemics of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and despite plans to decrease the level of aid going to South Africa, the amount spent has remained fairly steady over the past five years. Even with such significant US support, South Africa funds more than 80% of the budget for antiretroviral therapy and the majority of its own HIV/AIDS programs – spending more than $1 billion annually. In addition to supporting health service delivery, US investments in South Africa promoted greater sustainability of the health system through capacity building, leadership and civil society engagement.
Delegates saw this firsthand through their visit to the Corridor Empowerment Project’s Trucking Wellness Center, in Limpopo province. Truck drivers are at significantly higher risk for acquiring HIV, but making time for routine testing or treatment adherence is a challenge for on-the-go drivers. The delegates saw how one organization is addressing this issue by meeting the drivers where they are. The Corridor Empowerment Project participated in our Building Local Capacity in Southern Africa project and is now eligible for USG funding, which allows them to provide HIV testing and counseling through 22 roadside and mobile clinics.
Zambia: Moving out of debt into middle income status
US funding in Zambia also focuses heavily on HIV/AIDS, accounting for 75% of the $174 million in health assistance in 2014. In addition, health funding targets malaria, maternal and child health, family planning and reproductive health, nutrition, and water and sanitation. The US also supports governance, law and policy changes to support people living with HIV/AIDS. Our
delegates toured Medical Stores Limited (MSL), an autonomous government agency that stores, transports and distributes drugs and medical equipment throughout the country. Through US investment, MSH has helped Zambia build a robust supply chain for medications and equipment, which helps strengthen the overall health system and improves access to high quality essential medicines for people with both chronic and acute health needs.
US support of global health projects in Southern Africa has led to significant improvements in access to care and affordability of life-saving medications. Just as important, South Africa and Zambia now have the human and technological capacity to support and improve their own health systems through domestic resource mobilization and policy reform.
Delegates concluded their study tour to South Africa and Zambia with a visit to the Lilayi Elephant Nursery in Lusaka. Sponsored by Game Rangers International (GRI), the nursery rehabilitates baby elephants that have been injured or left orphaned due to elephant poaching. GRI works with the local community to show the value of environmental tourism and engages in interdisciplinary capacity building to help protect the endangered animals. Many in the local area haven’t always seen the value of these majestic animals as they can damage crops or hurt people, but GRI is finding mutually beneficial ways to interact with and encourage participation from the community in managing Zambia’s vital, internationally important ecosystems.
History of Poaching
Since the early 1900s, the demand for ivory has decimated the elephant population throughout Africa as ivory is seen as a coveted status symbol and some cultures consider it to have healing properties. In 1800, the elephant population numbered more than 26 million but by 1979, there were only 600,000 elephants left roaming the continent. While a 1989 international ban on ivory sales led to a rebound in the population and a decline in poaching, pressure from Asian and southern African nations led to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species sanctioning sales of ivory in 1999 and 2008. Since then, the elephant population has started to decline again as poachers continue to kill and demand from regions like Asia has led to a soaring price for ivory, even surpassing the price of gold. The animals’ slow reproduction rate cannot keep pace with the ivory demand and escalating poaching practices.
Although it had previously banned hunting elephants in 1982, Zambia permitted elephant hunting in four Game Management Areas (GMAs) from 2005 until 2013. The loosening of hunting regulations in GMAs combined with the recent upswing in poaching threatens the elephant population in Zambia.
Negative Impacts of Poaching
Poaching has taken a staggering toll on the elephant population, environment, and economy of Zambia. Tourism in Zambia focuses heavily on the country’s natural wonders, including its safaris and wealth of wildlife. As Zambia’s travel and tourism sector continues to grow, the rapid decline of the country’s elephant population will affect this rising economic sector as ecological tourism will decline with fewer and fewer elephants to see.
Poaching doesn’t just affect Zambian tourism and the elephants. Rangers, anti-poaching advocates, and wildlife conservation staff lose their lives every day across Africa, from Zambia to Sudan to Chad, as they work to protect elephants and other wildlife from poachers. Additionally, while it may seem harmless to all but the elephant to purchase ivory goods, the sales from these goods fund more than the poachers themselves. Militant groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Sudan’s janjaweed, garner income from poaching and reports have linked terrorist group al-Shabaab to poaching profits.
The experience of visiting Lilayi Elephant Nursery, hearing from GRI staff, and seeing the orphaned elephants firsthand reinforced the devastating and heart-breaking impacts of elephant poaching, both in Zambia and throughout Africa. Delegates were exposed to the dangers poaching not only poses to the elephants, but to local communities, game rangers, economies and global security. Thankfully, there are organizations like GRI who work tirelessly to protect the elephants and prevent poaching but more work is still needed to prevent these majestic animals from extinction.