Health Diplomacy: A Situation Where Everyone Wins
In today's global economy, no nation lives in a vacuum, and that is particularly true when it comes to health. The process of globalization has led to improvements in social, economic, and political conditions worldwide, but the movement of more than two million people each day across national borders and the growth of international commerce also contribute to health risks ranging from infectious disease in travelers to contaminated foods.
Despite these risks, health poses the best opportunity for U.S. diplomacy. The desire for good health is a motivating factor and leading political issue around the world. Therefore, what better way to break down the barriers and open constructive dialogue among countries than by contributing to the improvement of their people's health? Integrating health policy into national security and broader foreign policy can further our nation's causes abroad and serve as a bridge to peace and stability around the world.
Politicians may question whether the American people are ready to provide further assistance to improve health in other nations, but a recent survey taken by the Gallup Organization for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) clearly indicates that Americans recognize and support the responsibilities of the United States in this area. Specifically, most respondents indicated that the United States should play an active role to combat world hunger (74 percent), fight the spread of infectious diseases (80 percent), and find a cure for cancer and other diseases (91 percent) on a global scale.
The Bush Administration is well aware of the importance of global health and the valuable contribution it can make to the economy and security of countries. The President has personally spearheaded a number of major new global health initiatives and participated in, or sent his Cabinet officials to, key international meetings for addressing global health priorities.
HHS plays an important role in supporting the President's initiatives and leading many of America's global health efforts through its various agencies. Through NCI, for example, we participate in the Ireland-Northern Ireland-NCI Cancer Consortium to facilitate cooperative research and training between our country and our partners on the island of Ireland. We are also partnering, through NCI, in the establishment of the King Hussein Cancer Center in Jordan as a regional cancer treatment facility that is now saving the lives of young cancer patients from Iraq. And through NCI, we helped establish the Middle East Cancer Consortium among the countries of Jordan, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Turkey. When we cooperate internationally through initiatives such as these to address shared health problems, we can find solutions more efficiently, help improve the health of the world's people, and learn from one another in doing so. In other words, everyone wins.
Americans are a generous and caring people. For humanitarian reasons, they want to help improve the health of those in other countries as well as their own. But altruistic motives notwithstanding, it is in the best interest of the United States to increase its role in global health and to elevate health as one important aspect of diplomacy. A thorough analysis of issues in, as well as new approaches to, global health can significantly aid the nation in developing an effective approach for such work. For this reason, I am asking the U.S. Surgeon General to develop a report on the state of global health, with recommendations for action. I am also in the process of transforming the long-admired Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, led by the Surgeon General, to meet the future demands of our country and the world community. My goal and passion is to influence America's foreign policy such that we put even more investments into developing countries, especially with respect to improving their health and education. If we cooperate with a wide range of domestic and international partners, the United States can help create a world in which the citizens of every country enjoy good health.
Tommy G. Thompson