HHS Releases New Global Health Strategy

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HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (photo: Science Speaks)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) joined with the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) last week to discuss the department’s first ever global health strategy, outlined in a new report.  HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius discussed the department’s burgeoning commitment to asserting its role in improving the health and well-being of people around the world as a means of protecting and promoting the health of Americans.

Just a decade ago, global health activities at HHS strictly referred to health activities outside the U.S. , she said. In 2003, the HHS Office of Global Affairs had three employees and their primary duty was to plan and promote the Secretary of State’s travel.  In contrast, Sebelius immediately began working on global health matters when she took office in 2009.  Now, global health is not separate from America’s health.  With more than one million people entering the U.S. every day and most of America’s food supply being imported from countries that have fewer health regulations, Sebelius said it’s important to stretch our safety systems across the globe to keep Americans safe while improving the health of all people.

The HHS Global Health Strategy includes three goals to contribute to a vision of a healthier, safer world:

  • Protect and promote the health and well-being of Americans through global health action
  • Provide leadership and technical expertise in science, policy, programs, and practice to improve global health
  • Work in concert with interagency partners to advance U.S. interests in international diplomacy, development, and security through global health action

The goals are supported by ten critical objectives intended to guide all HHS agencies going forward in their global health activities:

  • Enhance global surveillance to detect, control and prevent diseases and health concerns,
  • Prevent infectious diseases and other health threats from crossing borders
  • Prepare for and respond to international outbreaks and public health emergencies
  • Increase the safety and integrity of global manufacturing and supply chains for medical products, food, and feed
  • Strengthen and implement international science-based international health and safety standards
  • Catalyze biomedical and public health research and innovation for new interventions that improve health and well-being
  • Identify and exchange best practices to improve health strategies and health systems
  • Address the changing global patterns of death, illness, and disability
  • Support the President’s Global Health Initiative to achieve major improvements in health outcomes for women, children, and families
  • Advance health diplomacy through scientific and technical expertise

As the HHS Department has been decentralized historically, these objectives will help pull together the key strengths of each HHS agency to better address the department’s global health concerns, said Nils Dulaire, director of the Office of Global Affairs at HHS.

Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of state for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the State Department, highlighted the link between global health and both American and world security.  Global health represents the best our country has to offer and having it on a foreign policy agenda reflects very positively on the U.S., Jones said.  Harvey Fineberg, President of the Institute of Medicine, agreed with Jones and added that global health is an arm of American diplomacy and international development.  Moreover, countries that receive the largest amounts of health funding from the U.S. – particularly for HIV/AIDS – have the most favorable views of Americans, said  Jen Kates of KFF.

Ariel Pablos-Mendez from the U.S. Agency for International Development   said the new HHS strategy fits into a changing world, where economies have grown – and will continue to grow – much more advanced, and where the tendency to provide foreign aid will decline as economies continue to grow.  He added that such a strategy is important for realizing the goal of an AIDS-free generation.

Helene Gayle, President of CARE USA, said the global health strategy is a huge step forward and will help spread innovation among partnering countries.  In addition, it’s important to make sure that U.S. politics do not trump American global health efforts.

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