Tightening the purse strings or changing strategy?

Categories: Policy.

Through the efforts of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and other public health initiatives, health care services in Africa have been strengthened.

In an opinion piece by Hilary Rodham Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State highlighted how U.S. partnerships across the developing world have enabled more than 4.5 million people received life-saving HIV treatment since 2008. This coordinated effort has laid a critical foundation for advancing the fight against the HIV epidemic in Africa.

However, in the wake of U.S. public debate around the looming fiscal cliff, coupled with the global economic recession, the U.S. will likely tighten the purse string, so to speak, on foreign aid. If U.S. funding into African health initiatives dwindle, many in palliative care circles are wondering who will continue to lead the way. How will global health initiatives in Africa continue to gain ground?

The new office of Global Health Diplomacy
This year, the Obama administration created a new office of Global Health Diplomacy. In a Transitions in Global Health roundtable discussion, Lois Quam, Executive Director of the Global Health Initiative (GHI) noted that under the new office, U.S. ambassadors will use diplomacy as a key tool to support health care advances at the local government level.

Under the new initiative, U.S. Ambassadors will be tasked with supporting local health care systems to better manage resources and to meet the needs of patients — using diplomacy as a catalyst toward health system strengthening. At remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in September, Hilary Clinton further emphasised that this type of transformation will only come through sustainable strategies.

Defining the measure of success
The measure of success for the refined role of the U.S. in supporting global health initiatives is yet to be tested.

In a joint message explaining the closure of the GHI office and the establishment of the Office of Global Health Diplomacy, key players in the GHI noted that success will be measured by the extent of collaboration.

“Collective interagency leadership to influence global stakeholders, align donor investments with country resources and oversight and maintain and build country-focused technical support that expands capacity for global health priorities,” the statement noted.

Global health is changing for the better, and diplomacy may be one answer to make this happen. Time will surely tell.

Read coverage around the new Office of Global Health Diplomacy in the Global Post and the Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report.

Heather Newton holds a MA in International Development from Eastern University. She currently lives in the Chicago Metropolitan Area where she works in community health.

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