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World: Advocates Urge Greater Link Between Health, Foreign Policy

  • Kevin Foley

A report by a respected foreign policy research group contends that the United States should make global health a foreign policy priority.

Washington, 21 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A well-known Washington foreign policy research group says the United States government should put the issue of global health "squarely on its foreign policy agenda."

In a report commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations, a group of experts concluded that the U.S. can obtain significant domestic and international benefits by paying more attention to international health and by viewing it through the lens of foreign policy decision-making.

Jordan Kassalow, the report's principal author, said there are three main reasons why global health should be a more prominent foreign policy topic.

Kassalow said the rapid spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and the re-emergence of tuberculosis place the health of Americans at greater risk than at any other time in U.S. history. He noted that 57 million Americans travel abroad annually and that 70,000 international travelers arrive in the U.S. every day.

Secondly, Kassalow said global health problems undermine U.S. economic and security interests throughout the world. Finally, he said the U.S. has a unique opportunity for leadership in making the health of the public a priority item.

Kassalow summarized the report's conclusions at a briefing in Washington last week.

He contended that from an economic standpoint alone, good health makes good sense.

"From an economic perspective, healthy populations are a prerequisite for healthy economies and healthy economies make for stronger trading partners in search of U.S. goods and services. There are strong, well-documented links between health and economic stability."

He said health creates wealth in several ways, including a more productive workforce, a stronger tax base and increased domestic investment. In contrast, he said poor health blocks economic growth by, among other things, weakening productivity and decreasing the confidence of foreign investors.

Kassalow cited a recent report by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Board, which said that the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases and the increasing burden of illnesses such as heart disease and cancer threaten to undermine the transition to democracy and free-market economies in the states of the former Soviet Union.

The report makes a number of recommendations for U.S. policymakers.

Among other things, the report calls for White House support for legislation pending in the U.S. Congress that commits $1 billion to a variety of international health programs. The report also calls for more funds to be channeled to the U.S. Agency for International Development and its HIV/AIDS programs in China, India, and Russia.

The report also urges the U.S. to spend $400 million over the next five years to support a "Global Health Security -- Epidemic Alert and Response" surveillance system.

Kassalow said that improving the health of people in other countries makes both strategic and moral sense. Said Kassalow:

"Beyond enhancing security, prosperity, and democracy -- and addressing the criticism that the benefits of globalization leave out the poor -- a vigorous international health policy provides an opportunity for leadership that is grounded in the United States' strength in biomedical science and its applications."