Population Matters

Secretary Clinton, the Global Health Initiative, and Family Planning

August 18th, 2010

During a speech Monday at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked an important question: “What exactly does maternal health, or immunizations, or the fight against HIV and AIDS have to do with foreign policy?” The answer she gave of “everything” shows how central global health is to the Administration’s thinking on international affairs.

Eighteen months ago, the Obama administration unveiled a $63 billion Global Health Initiative (GHI) to save millions of lives by expanding current programs and improving health systems in developing countries. The GHI, which has become a centerpiece of the Administration’s foreign policy, provides increased funding for HIV/AIDS, malaria, maternal and child health, family planning, neglected tropical diseases, and other critical health areas.

For starters, the GHI will increase the funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. PEPFAR is a Bush Administration initiative that has provided millions of people with prevention and treatment services. The GHI will build off the successes that PEPFAR has had with antiretrovirals. Currently there are 5 million people in the developing world who are using antiretrovirals; the GHI seeks to reach 12 million people, including 5 million orphans and vulnerable children.

With 2.7 million new infections each year the GHI will also make sure that PEPFAR puts more focus on prevention. As Secretary Clinton said, “If we are going to win this war, we need to get better results in prevention.” PEPFAR, she said, will move beyond the “abstinence, be faithful, and consistent and correct use of condoms” (ABC) approach adopted by the Bush Administration.  She called for an “A to Z” approach that will take a more comprehensive approach to sexual and reproductive health.

The GHI also calls for making the U.S. a leader in family planning and maternal and child health. Currently, a woman dies every minute and a half due to pregnancy related causes and another 20 women suffer major injury.

Secretary Clinton made clear that family planning must play a leading role in the GHI:

Saving the lives of women and children requires a range of care, from improving nutrition to training birth attendants who can help women give birth safely. It also requires increased access to family planning. Family planning represents one of the most cost-effective public health interventions available in the world today. It prevents both maternal and child deaths by helping women space their births and bear children during their healthiest years. And it reduces the deaths of women from unsafe abortion.

Another major goal of the GHI is to increase integration of services so that people do not have to go to multiple clinics to receive different treatments. Currently a woman may have to go to one clinic to get her HIV/AIDS treatment, another one to get health care for her children, and another one further away for contraceptive supplies. This ‘siloed’ approach, as Secretary Clinton emphasized yesterday, has failed.  “Women we save from AIDS will die in childbirth. Children we save from polio will die from rotovirus.”

By integrating programs, the GHI is looking to produce a measured and sustained reduction in maternal and infant mortality and a qualitative improvement in the health of women and children. With adequate funding, including more funding for international family planning, the GHI can save lives and make a world of difference.

Full text and video of Secretary Clinton’s speech is available here.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

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