Comparing the candidates: Obama, Romney on science, spending, AIDS and Africa

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If nothing else, this presidential election season has brought the good news that both major party candidates have taken stances against preventable death and disease. Republican contender Mitt Romney released a statement on the global AIDS pandemic on the eve of AIDS 2012 in July, saying “We must overcome the challenge of AIDS.” President Obama addressed the conference via video, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton represented the administration in person, promising a blueprint to bring about an “AIDS-free generation.”  With the blueprint not scheduled for release until after the election, and both campaigns largely focused on the domestic economy, Science Speaks looked at two recently published examinations of the candidates’ foreign policy and science stances,  candidates’ party platforms and other posted materials for clues to where the candidates diverge on major global health issues.

Devex: Where they stand: Democrats and Republicans on U.S. foreign aid 
This analysis from Devex looks at the candidates’ words, supporters’ statements and party platforms on an array of foreign spending issues, including global health. It notes that while star speakers at both recent political party conventions praised the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s proposed cuts to foreign spending has raised questions about how that program would do if the ticket he is on wins. The piece also points out that neither platform puts a number on the value of foreign aid. While the Republican platform notes that “Limiting foreign aid spending helps keep taxes lower,” the Obama administration long-term funding plan shows steady increases in foreign aid spending over the next decade. While both platforms give props to PEPFAR and “express support” for the Global Fund, the analysis continues, the form that support would take could take very divergent directions. Obama rescinded the global gag rule that denies funding for nonprofits providing abortion services, referrals or counseling, for example, and the Republican platform includes a pledge to reinstate it. Finally, this article points out that although neither platform addresses gay rights in a foreign aid framework, the Democratic platform praises the administration’s attention to and support of efforts to counter homophobic discrimination and abuse, while the Republican platform takes a stance against the administration’s attention to those human rights issues. This analysis includes a handy chart, comparing Democrat and Republican foreign aid approaches in their party platforms’ words.

Nature/Scientific American Obama and Romney tackle 14 top science questions
“I’m not a scientist myself,” begins Mitt Romney’s answer to a question on how to address global warming in this joint effort from Scientific American and, which invited the candidates to share thoughts on matters scientific, including research investment, vaccinations, pandemic preparedness, and the role of science in public policy. For the record, Romney goes on to say of global warming: “my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer . . .” Both candidates voice support for federally funded research, Obama citing specific actions, including funding through the Recovery Act, and Romney criticizing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “slow and opaque approval process.” Both candidates also favor policies informed by science with Obama adding: “Over the next four years I will continue seeking new ways to make scientific information more transparent and readily available to the public, while Romney promises that under his administration: “sound science will inform sound policy decisions, and the costs and benefits of regulations will be properly weighed in that process.”

Party platforms — The Democrats’ Moving America Forward and the Republicans’ We Believe in America
The party platforms also offer glimpses of differing approaches to science, social issues and health. The Democrats’ platform, at 32 pages, uses the term “HIV/AIDS” eight times between two sections, one on domestic  healthcare, the other on global issues. The Republicans’ platform, at 54 pages, three times, once in a section entitled “Consumer Choice in Education” backing “abstinence education” (“Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually”), and twice in a section entitled “Advancing Hope and Prosperity in Africa” (where AIDS appears in the titles of the Presidents Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria). Using the Global Fund’s full name also gives the Republican document the one and only mention of tuberculosis between the two documents. The Democrat’s platform though, uses the term “infectious disease” four times.

On Africa . . .
Finally, while campaign material addressing global health concerns is hard to come by, both candidates shed light on their priorities with their thoughts on Africa, the continent that has been the primary focus of PEPFAR and Global Fund efforts. The White House Web site posts a “Fact Sheet: Obama Administration Accomplishments in Sub-Saharan Africa” which describes 22 efforts to build peace, democracy, leadership, development, and investment in southern Africa. It includes the establishment of the Global Health Initiative, which, retaining a focus on infectious disease, health system strengthening and maternal and child health has since become the Office for Global Health Diplomacy, along with the launch of other programs to address food, environmental and health challenges. The Romney campaign includes an “Africa” page on its Web site, with an overview hailing the continent’s potential as a resource-rich home to “one of the world’s fastest growing economies.” The overview notes that a number of challenges on the continent “still remain unresolved” which, it says, include “extremism,” piracy, “brutal or inept regimes” “Islamist terrorists” but does not mention infectious or chronic disease, environmental challenges, water safety, maternal and child health. The next section on the Africa page is dedicated to “Obama’s failure,” which includes, as a closing sentence: “Mass rapes and human rights abuses continue in Congo.”

Stay tuned — Both candidates will address last day sessions of the Sept. 23-25 eighth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, which will meet around the theme “Designing for Impact.” The October 11 Vice Presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky will include foreign policy topics, the October 16 “town meeting” format Presidential debate in Hempstead, NY will include foreign policy, and the final, October 22 Presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida will be dedicated to foreign policy.


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