Saturday, December 06, 2008

ONE idea for Obama

From the website: "President-elect Obama will have historic opportunities to bring hope and dignity to millions currently suffering from poverty and preventable diseases, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.We can make a difference by showing our support for an inaugural affirmation of Obama's pledge to fight poverty and preventable diseases worldwide, and for an FY2010 Presidential budget request that puts the U.S. on track to meet Obama's historic commitments to the world's poorest people." Sign the online petition here:

Presidents from JFK to Reagan have realized that poverty alleviation can be part of US policy and that it can be an effective way to help others and make America stronger. Of course, there is that dicey issue of spending the money effectively. Not spending it so we can pat ourselves on the back, but to catalyze real change. Always a challenge for government, which is multiplied in the area of foreign aid.
An example of where this could work better is government funding of medical research. This has lead to new vaccines and learnings about disease. But diseases of the "rest of the world" tend not to get the same priority.
While NIH says these diseases are a "high priority," US spending " global health has fallen short. NIH’s AIDS research funding was cut by $19 million from 2005 to 2006, and it has remained stagnant since then. Last year, just 0.3 percent of the NIH budget was devoted to malaria, and just 0.5 percent to TB.6 By failing to adequately fund NIH, the President’s 2008 budget further threatens our efforts to address global health issues." Global Health Initiative Report 2007 - Families USA
Congress and President Obama could step up- funding the NIH to focus more programs on TB, malaria, etc. could pay benefits on many levels. And it may be time to reprioritize NIH research programs. What are the expected public health returns on more research in, say, diabetes or obesity, compared to malaria or water borne disease?

This will also be an area where more government collaboration could help with dissemination. I have been very impressed by the work Rotary International, UNICEF, WHO and Gates Foundation in the Polio Eradication program. The Dept of Health & Human Services has supported this effort with significant resources. Looking for other multilateral efforts to improve public health, with existing technology such as the polio vaccine, could leverage results. The President's Malaria Initiative could be extended. Mosquito bed nets or clean water initiatives might benefit greatly from innovative partnerships and new types of US government support.