US Should Double Global Health Spending By 2012

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President-elect Barack Obama's administration and Congress should double annual U.S. international health aid to $15 billion by 2012, and Obama should appoint a senior official to work with a White House committee for coordinating such aid with other areas of foreign affairs, according to a National Institute of Medicine report released Monday, Bloomberg reports (Lauerman, Bloomberg, 12/15).

The report, which says global health should be a "pillar" of U.S. foreign policy, was compiled by a committee of outside experts -- including Harold Varmus, president and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and former head of NIH, and Thomas Pickering, former ambassador and under secretary of state for political affairs. The report also recommends increased U.S. support for the World Health Organization (Jack, Financial Times, 12/15). In addition, the authors emphasize the importance of sustaining commitments to global health programs, such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, particularly during the current economic downturn.

According to Varmus, the U.S. currently spends less per capita on international health aid than many other countries and should work to increase its relative spending. The IOM report found that the U.S. spends about 0.16% of its gross national income on development aid, which is about one-third of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals target of 0.54%. According to the report, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden exceed the MDG target and 15 other industrialized nations contribute proportionally more than the U.S. The report is "just drawing attention to the fact that we do underspend," Varmus said, adding, "[E]specially in times of economic stress, we need to pay attention to the poor of the world."

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According to Varmus, "This is the time to make the investments" in global health aid. Bill Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said, "By making global health a top priority, even in difficult economic times, our nation's leaders can make a phenomenal statement about America's commitment to a better world for all." Gates added that the IOM report "sends a critical message at a critical time: America's investments in global health are working." Varmus said that additional health aid is "a good thing to do just for basic ethical reasons, and it boosts the economies of nations that receive health assistance."

According to the report's authors, increasing health assistance will demonstrate that the U.S. "fundamentally believes in the value of better health for all" (Bloomberg, 12/15). The IOM advisers said that the U.S. would be acting "in the global interest" by increasing global health aid and that "long-term diplomatic, economic and security benefits for the United States would follow." According to the report, international health funding will contribute to U.S. "soft power" abroad by building support among developing nations.

The report calls for the U.S. to work with developing countries to determine the most effective delivery methods for medical support and implement "rigorous evaluation" measures to ensure improved health outcomes. Michael Leavitt, outgoing HHS secretary, has said increased global health efforts would be an important non-military aspect of U.S. foreign policy and would help Americans recoup "the benefits of our benevolence." Leavitt in a speech last week to the Center for Strategic and International Studies also called for greater coordination between international donors and a unified "branding" of U.S. international health support (Financial Times, 12/15). Nick Shapiro, a spokesperson for the Obama transition team, would not comment on the IOM report(Bloomberg, 12/15).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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