Global Health Front and Center on Capitol Hill

By Jane Coaston | April 9, 2013

At the Cannon House Office Building on Monday, global health partners and advocates met to celebrate a new briefing on the current state of global health efforts.

Jane Coaston/EGPAF

Global health advocates gathered on Monday at the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill to mark the release of a new briefing on the status of the United States’ global health efforts. Titled “Global Health – Investing In Our Future” and hosted by InterAction, the presentation showed the unity of the global health community and indicated that the U.S. government’s investments in global health have paid considerable dividends.

InterAction, a partnership composed of over 180 nongovernmental organizations – including EGPAF –dedicated to supporting the world’s most vulnerable populations, held the gathering to release a comprehensive briefing book on global health. Featuring fifteen briefs on key subjects in global health – including writing on HIV/AIDS; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); tuberculosis; malaria; and reproductive health – the briefing book is, in the words of InterAction Executive Vice President Lindsay Coates, “fact based, grounded in real-life experience, and right to the point.”

To kick off the meeting, Coates walked the audience through some of the U.S. government’s biggest global health accomplishments: 5.1 million people have been treated for HIV with U.S. global health dollars; in Fiscal Year 2011, 42 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets were given through the President’s Malaria Initiative; three million lives have been saved by U.S.-funded immunization programs; USAID interventions have saved the lives of six million children under the age of five; and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) programs have reduced the number of new polio cases globally by 99 percent since 1988. Coates said that the new briefing book was intended to build on these successes.

The presentation centered on a talk by USAID’s Robert Clay. As deputy assistant administrator in the bureau of global health, Clay has over three decades of first-hand experience in the field. In his remarks, he emphasized the tremendous impact that the U.S. government and nongovernmental organizations worldwide have made in global health. “This is an incredible time in public health, “he said. “We are seeing some of the returns on our investments.

When I started this job, 17 million children were dying each year. Just recently, UNICEF indicated that those numbers were (now) below 7 million.” He added that drops in fertility and maternal mortality were further indications of the strides made in global health. “It’s a story that’s told over and over again,” he said, “(but) we can actually point to real live progress.” He said that the U.S. government’s leading role in global health represented our values – focusing on health as a means of building and protecting civil society and creating economic stability. “Can we pack up our bags and go home? No.”

Clay said that the role of data in the global health fight was impossible to overstate – because of our ability to examine past and present work analytically, he said, “we can think about end games now.” He talked about the possibility of an AIDS-free generation – a dream made possible by partnerships between nongovernmental organizations, the U.S. government, and the international community. He then said that similar progress is possible in the field of child mortality, and noted the global health community’s goal of reducing preventable child deaths by 2035. He said that he wanted “a world where it didn’t matter if you were born in Bangladesh, Chile, or the United States – you would have the same rate of survival.” He referenced battling stigmatization and discrimination against marginalized populations as a key step. These goals aren’t dependent on governments or private enterprise, he said. “This vision is based on partnership.”

Speaking to younger members of the audience, Clay challenged them to find workable solutions to global health problems. “Your generation is going to be the one that brings this home,” he said. “If we’re going to achieve these bold visions, it’ll be within your lifetime and professional working career.” He closed by reiterating just how close we are to finding answers that can save millions more lives. “We’re past third base,” he said, “but you and your support will be what bring us to home plate.”

Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.