New Secretary of State a blank slate on global health

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Global infectious diseases responses not addressed Mike Pompeo’s hearing, testimony for Secretary of State confirmation

President Trump applauded the confirmation of Mike Pompeo as the new Secretary of State Thursday, saying “He will always put the interests of America first.”

In the view of many, including at least his three most recent predecessors, that would include strong support and advancement of the flagship global infectious diseases responses led by the department Pompeo now heads.

His immediate predecessor, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had served on a Center for Strategic and International Studies Commission that weighed in on U.S. international public health responses, and on his watch as ExxonMobil’s Chair and Chief, the oil company’s Foundation made its own investments, to fight malaria, and address women’s issues. Before that, Secretary of State John Kerry took the job as one of the authors of the legislation that launched the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and that made America the largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria. And after extolling the value of global HIV fighting efforts in securing good will, and health security in America’s interests during her confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had gone on to introduce the concept of “an AIDS-free generation” into both popular parlance and policy, and to introduce a PEPFAR “Blueprint” toward that goal.

But Pompeo’s take on the role of global infectious disease responses led by his department in international development, stability, and security remains an open question. Unaddressed in the testimony he submitted for his confirmation hearing, the soft power of U.S. global health leadership went largely unmentioned in subsequent questioning during the hearing as well, with a query on the impacts of the expanded Mexico City Policy by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) eliciting a noncommittal response.

A handful of organizations involved in global health including the Global Forum on MSM & HIV, the Global Network of Black People working in HIV, and Planned Parenthood felt they knew enough to join a coalition of more than 200 human rights groups in urging Senators not to confirm Pompeo in a letter citing a record of support for policies that marginalize populations that include gay, lesbian and transgender people and indicated religious intolerance.

As a potential global health leader, though, he remains a blank slate, with only the outcomes of U.S. global infectious disease efforts ahead, to provide answers.

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