I was in Washington DC last week for a Vital Voices event at the Kennedy Center honoring Melinda and other incredible women who are working for positive change around the world. It was wonderful to meet so many courageous women and hear their stories.
Along with former President Bill Clinton, I was asked to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to talk about global health issues, including the Administration’s Global Health Initiative. We both emphasized the importance of continuing U.S. support for global health programs. We had a very good discussion with Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the committee, Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican, and other Senators.
I think global health programs are a great investment. While I’d actually like to see this funding rise more rapidly, I appreciate that the Administration has proposed a moderate increase for global health next year. This is an important step in building on past successes. It will strengthen HIV/AIDS prevention and will support family health interventions that can make societies more productive. It will help increase vaccine immunization rates in poor countries. And continued support for the fight against polio is critical as we aim to stop the spread of this disease.
These programs really do work. They’ve helped reduce malaria cases and deaths by 50 percent in several African countries. Four million people in Africa are receiving antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS. That’s up from 155,000 five years ago.
It’s pretty amazing to realize that 50 years ago, more than 20 million children died before their fifth birthday. Last year, it was fewer than 9 million. I think this is one of the greatest accomplishments of the last hundred years.
But 9 million children dying unnecessarily each year is still 9 million too many. That’s why we need to continue our efforts.
President Clinton made a strong case for how the U.S. government’s commitment to global health helps to strengthen national security. He said if people think you care whether their children live or die, you don’t have to send our young people off to war as often. It makes a world with more friends and fewer enemies.
He also got the biggest laugh with his answer to a question from Sen. Richard Lugar about cooperation between government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on global health: “I think I can say without fear of contradiction that no NGO leader in American history has ever consulted as much as I have with the Secretary of State.”