We are just beginning to emerge from likely one of the most intense election cycles in modern U.S. history. While that has been exhausting, it’s important to remember the next presidential administration and 117th Congress represent an opportunity to advance global health. Global Health Council is eager to hit the ground running.
The most pressing order of business, of course, is COVID-19. The ongoing crisis has brought into stark relief the challenges of which this community was already well aware: limitations of preparedness and access to care worldwide, a disproportionate burden of disease among communities of color and marginalized populations, and how tenuous our progress on other global health priorities could be. All of this was true before COVID-19, but—as I’ve said before—we need real change now.
Here are some of the critical steps we must take to leverage this moment:
Renewing international cooperation. The pandemic has highlighted a need for strong international coordination on global health. Historically, the U.S. has proven itself a leader in this arena. However, our country’s role in that space has waned in recent years. Ideally, 2021 presents an opportunity to revisit our standing on the global stage. That includes re-engaging with World Health Organization—an essential step not only to stopping the spread of COVID-19, but also ensuring our international public health architecture is strengthened in a way that prevents a crisis of this magnitude from ever happening again. Additionally, participating in the WHO co-led initiative for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics is critical. As we know, no response to outbreaks can be piecemeal, favoring some countries or components over others. Pandemics just don’t work that way.
Reversing harmful policy. In 2017, President Trump reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy, requiring foreign non-governmental organizations to certify that they will not use their own funds to provide information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or to advocate for access to abortion services as a condition of receiving U.S. global health assistance. The policy has since been extended, with even more potential for negative outcomes. We remain focused on working with policymakers to change course, before more damage is done.
Increasing government funding. It should go without saying that more resources are required for our issues across the board. In fact, we’ve been operating at a deficit and “doing more with less” for far too long. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem, constraining global health programs and progress even further. Therefore, we will push the next administration and Congress not only to transform global health assistance but also ensure that is done with robust funding, including providing immediate outstanding emergency resources to address the pandemic globally and substantially increasing overall U.S. global health funds during their term.
Addressing current challenges. Although much of the conversation related to global health in 2020 has been dominated by COVID-19, we all know there is more to the story. While the pandemic has raged, we have seen disturbing trends emerge in HIV, tuberculosis, cancer, and maternal or child health services, not to mention a host of other commonly neglected priorities. The bottom line: We are losing ground in scary ways and sounding the alarm as loudly as we can. This is not a time to go backward, especially given the U.S. and its partners have invested so much in reaching the finish line on these issues. The last thing any of us wants is an even greater global health burden on the other side of this emergency. We urge all incoming elected officials to keep their eyes on the prize, by recommitting to critical existing goals and objectives.
Implementing a new vision for global health. If we are to deliver on U.S. global health goals, we need a revitalized agenda that will modernize and improve program efficiency and outcomes, prevent or mitigate future global health threats, and stimulate vibrant and growing economies that undergird social determinants. But, most of all, any U.S. policy should drive equitable access to health worldwide. A new U.S. global health agenda that builds more just, resilient health systems through greater investments and integration will provide better defense against a spectrum of health risks faced by individuals and families across the globe. Furthermore, such communities deserve a seat at the table in determining the very priorities and programs meant to serve them. Instead of a typical top-down approach, we must pursue our collective global health goals with humility and a hearty spirit of inclusion, deferring to firsthand frontline actors and accounts regarding what they find most useful. GHC and its members have developed a roadmap for policymakers to guide this transformation, building on successes or lessons of the past and accelerating progress as we move forward. Following this blueprint will stimulate innovative, holistic initiatives with sustainable, people-centered solutions.
Change is in the air. Even with all of the unknowns, we know for sure that there will be faces, both new and familiar, in the White House and Congress come January. GHC is ready to leverage our steady relationships and reputation, build new ties, and make real, measurable progress on global health priorities. We look forward to working with all of you as we do.