By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
If the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is going to protect the health of American citizens, it must look beyond national borders and work to improve health on a global basis. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explained her agency’s expanded world view in a speech to a Washington-based nonprofit organization devoted to health policy issues.
The secretary delivered the remarks after the release of a Global Health Strategy, the first such plan crafted by HHS, which serves as the parent agency to frontline research and care agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
“In a world in which the flow of people and goods stretches across the globe,” Sebelius said January 5, “our only chance to keep Americans safe is if our systems for preventing, detecting and containing disease stretch across the globe too.”
The strategy works in tandem with two related policy announcements from the Obama administration. The White House outlined a Global Health Initiative in 2009, pledging to assist other nations in strengthening their health systems. In September 2010, President Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly and urged the global community to come together to prevent, detect and fight all biological dangers, including pandemic, terrorist threat or treatable disease.
The United States has a long record of assisting other nations in solving health problems and providing leadership in massive disease-eradication efforts for smallpox and polio. But Sebelius said the nation has self-interest in collaborating with other countries to find treatments and cures for conditions and diseases that threaten people everywhere.
“Everywhere I’ve traveled as secretary, from Paris to Moscow to Beijing to Nairobi, health leaders are trying to solve the same problems as us,” Sebelius told her audience at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “And it’s not just dealing with chronic diseases. Topics from rising health costs to the shortage of primary care providers have become typical agenda items in my meetings with my international colleagues.”
Sebelius said the Global Health Strategy will put particular focus on improving the health of women and girls, based on the fact that women serve as the best messengers to spread knowledge of health habits and disease prevention to their communities.
Unlike many policy areas in which protracted negotiations may be required for nations to reach agreement, Sebelius said, she sees an eagerness for participation from her counterparts in other nations. “When the discussion turns to tackling our biggest health challenges, there is a broad consensus that nations must work together.”
Collaboration in pursuit of solutions to health problems — whether it is development of a new drug or understanding an unknown disease — will benefit people everywhere, she said. “And a healthier world is one in which every nation will have more productive workers, longer lives, and larger markets for its goods and services.”