Getting Global Health on the Congressional Agenda

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Can Congress help stoke the interest in—and effectiveness of—university global health programs?

Who better to take up that question than John Porter, a former member of Congress who chaired the House appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over NIH. Porter challenged the university global health leaders at this week’s Consortium of Universities for Global Health meeting, held at the NIH, to advocate before Congress for a greater global health commitment. 

Porter described PEPFAR as “a very successful program by every measure,” which has “helped to build health care infrastructure, trained health care workers, and showed that the US cared.” He also lauded the Global Health Initiative proposed by the Obama Administration, but argued that more funding is needed, above what has been proposed.

“Appropriations is all about choosing priorities. It can be done,” Porter said.

Porter, a Republican from Illinois, pointed out that the critical role of universities in the global health response should have greater recognition and if possible, be codified into law. That could mean Congressional authorization for a specific role, and federal resources, for U.S.-based academic institutions.

At the same session, titled “Growth and Opportunities in Global Health,” Mary Wooley, president of Research America, challenged the scientists and other global health professionals in the audience to get more involved in policy. She described scientists as “invisible to the American public” and said a significant majority of Americans can’t name a single living scientist.

In one recent survey, 75 percent of Californians couldn’t name one institution that conducts research in the state. Nevertheless, there is public support for these issues.  In another November 2008 survey, 60 percent of respondents said they would pay a $1 more per week in taxes if it was used to invest in global health.

Wooley encouraged participants to check out a website sponsored by Research America designed to help doctors and others find out more about their members of Congress and their views on health—www.yourcongressyourhealth.org.

That was an interesting end point, which echoed an earlier message from Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine. Fineberg helped kick off the second day of the CUGH meeting by providing highlights of the important and recently released Institute of Medicine report focused on the US commitment to global health. 

Fineberg  noted that while one-quarter of US foreign assistance goes to health—a higher percentage than most high-income countries, the US falls very short – last of the list of high income countries—in the fraction of its GNP devoted to global health.

He reiterated some of the key recommendations of the IOM report—scaling up existing interventions ala PEPFAR, investing in new knowledge, increasing the financial commitment to global health, and taking the lead in a call to action for government leadership on global health. 

Fineberg ended by challenging the US government to change the paradigm by moving from being the coordinator of developing country global health activities to being coordinated by developing countries that need to be empowered to determine their own programs and priorities.

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  1. Pingback: Consortium of Universities for Global Health Annual Meeting « Research!America

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