Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A world of possibilities

We can begin to end the AIDS epidemic now.

If there’s one message we should take to Congress and to other government leaders contemplating cuts to global health programs, it’s that.

Chris Collins, vice president and director of public policy for amfAR, told Annual Meeting attendees that the state of global health hangs in the balance with the current budget crisis. Reducing federal funding for global health programs will only backfire on American initiatives at home and abroad and cost more in the long run.

“By cutting funding, you don’t solve the problems, you do more damage,” Collins said.

Funding for global programs cost the U.S. government “only one-quarter of one cent, but the economic, humanitarian and diplomatic returns are huge,” Collins said during this morning's session on the “State of the U.S. Global Health Initiative.”

Ann Starrs, president of Family Care International, said global health initiatives seek to achieve more “value for the money” when it comes to health.

“We don’t just want to prevent death,” Starrs said. “We want to promote health.”

Starrs works specifically on improving health conditions for women and girls via strategic coordination and integration as well as using gender equity approaches.

“We want to make services more convenient for the user and more efficient for the institution implementing the services,” she said.

Katherine Monahan, deputy executive director of the U.S. State Department’s Global Health Initiative Office, said the United States is a world leader in global assistance and that it’s important to sustain that leadership.

“We have much to share with the world,” Monahan said. “We are making a difference in the lives of people all over the world because Americans care.”

The immediate budget crisis may pose a challenge to Global Health Initiative goals, but it is important to continue to bring America’s best policies and practices to the global table to help in three strategic areas: saving more mothers and children, creating an AIDS-free generation and challenging the world to step up to health challenges.

“The future is looking really good,” Monahan said. “We’re really excited.”

John Donnelly, vice president and senior editor at Burness Communications and a correspondent for the Global Post, said it is important to have storytellers both here in the states and in Global Health Initiative countries promote the initiative's activities.

Through his work as a global health journalist, he’s found mainstream coverage of global health issues decreasing.

“There’s almost no one covering global health policy anymore,” he told session attendees. “They find it dull.”

Without storytellers on the ground, he said, it is difficult to garner political support for global health programs that ultimately affect the way we live here in the states. He and others on the session panel urged the audience to speak to their congressional representatives about the importance of supporting global health programs.

“Bring a story with you of how (the Global Health Initiative) impacts you on the local level,” he suggested.

Donnelly, who has spent much time traveling through Africa and seeing first-hand how U.S. global health initiatives make a difference, noted that when in-country organizations and American initiatives work together to support the same goals, progress can be made.

“Things succeed when relationships are strong,” Donnelly said. “When it’s working well, there are advances.”

— L.R.

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