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World Health Assembly – Secretary Sebelius' Remarks on the Global Health Initiative
May 17, 2010


U.S. Government Meeting with the Ministers of Health of countries receiving assistance through the Global Health Initiative

Remarks by U.S. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius,

Department of Health and Human Services

63rd World Health Assembly

Palais des Nations

Geneva, Switzerland

Monday, May 17, 2010

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Fellow health ministers and distinguished leaders: I’m honored to be with you today and grateful that you accepted our invitation to discuss President Obama’s Global Health Initiative.

This is a pivotal moment. The United States Government is committed to working with the world to achieve our shared global health objectives. There is also a growing understanding that we can’t achieve these goals unless we all work together. Today, none of us can afford to “go-it-alone.” That’s why I’m so pleased that so many of our partners – the countries we work closely with every day around the world – are here to talk about our new approach to global health.

The first thing you need to know about the Global Health Initiative is that it builds on and expands our global health successes of the past decade: from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to the President’s Malaria Initiative to maternal and child health and family planning programs. I’ll give you one example of how far we’ve come together: before PEPFAR began in 2003, fewer than 50,000 people in all of sub-Saharan Africa were receiving anti-retroviral therapy. Today, programs sponsored by the U.S. Government are directly supporting treatment for almost 2.5 million individuals, the vast majority in Africa. These results show what we can accomplish and will influence our efforts going forward.

But we believe we can do even better. That’s why President Obama has launched a historic six-year $63 billion Global Health Initiative that meets and expands our existing commitments to programs that promote health in some of the world’s poorest countries. We’re pleased that this Initiative calls for a significant increase in support for maternal and child health, family planning, and nutrition programs, on top of our already robust infectious disease programs.

But it goes beyond financial commitments. To improve results, it brings an innovative new approach to the way we do business. For example, PEPFAR programs have partnered with the World Food Programme and USAID’s Food for Peace program to help provide nutrition for HIV-affected populations in countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya. However in the past, we haven’t had the leadership and support from across US Government agencies we needed to integrate these efforts in a systematic and aggressive way.

That’s changing with the Global Health Initiative. We’re emphasizing “smart integration” – not integration for integration’s sake, but integration that really helps the populations we serve by making it easier for them to access the range of health services they need. This is part of what we call our “whole-of-government” approach. It means that the Department of Health and Human Services will work closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department, and other U.S. Government partners to achieve our global health goals. That partnership is reflected here at this table today.

We’re also looking for new and better ways to coordinate with multilateral organizations, NGOs and foundations. And we’re focused on working together at the country level too, in support of your countries’ national plans and objectives. We believe that if we can make these changes, we have the best chance of achieving sustainable progress toward our common goals.

Another cornerstone of the Global Health Initiative is women and girl-centered programming. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to getting sick and are less likely to have access to health services. We believe that when women and girls have increased access to good quality health care, including family planning and other reproductive health services, community health and stability follow. When women are valued and educated…when they enjoy legal and property rights and protection…when their reproductive health and rights are supported, they have smaller families, healthier children, and live longer lives.

We also know that women are the gateways to their communities. Around the world, women are primarily responsible for managing water, nutrition, household resources, and accessing health services for their families. Many of them are closely involved in providing health care for those around them. So by improving the health of women, we can also improve the health of the communities in which they live.

For example, through the U.S. government’s AIDS program, PEPFAR, we fund women’s groups for HIV-positive mothers. A typical success story is that of a woman named Stella who joined one of these groups in Abuja, Nigeria while she was pregnant. Thanks to the group, she was able to get the right antenatal care and have a healthy child. Later, she had a second healthy child, and by this time, Stella had become a group leader. She was able to educate her peers about the steps they needed to take to protect themselves and their children – advice that was much more effective coming from Stella than it would have been from an aid worker.

So by supporting one woman in her own desire to stay healthy, the health of dozens of Nigerians was improved. That’s a modest, but a very high-yield investment, and it’s the promise of the goals the global community committed ourselves to in 2000, and that we recommit ourselves to today.

As we look ahead to the Millennium Development Goals summit this fall, goal-setting and mutual accountability are also important. There are some signs of progress on global health. A recent Lancet article suggests that in many parts of the world, we are doing a better job saving women’s lives. The latest reporting by the UN indicates that we are also making progress in halting and beginning to reverse the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

But there is a lot of work left to be done if we are going to reach the Millennium Development Goals for reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and combating diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB. We can’t be satisfied with the status quo. We need to escalate our efforts and accelerate sustainable progress.

This is our time. Your presence in this room shows the breadth of our shared commitment. By working together, we can build and sustain the progress we’ve made towards an integrated approach to global health that helps us achieve our shared goals. Over the next few years, we have a remarkable opportunity to help tens of millions of people around the world live healthier lives and reach their full potential. We believe the Global Health Initiative is a step in that direction.