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Obama May Change International Health Funding

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Obama May Change International Health Funding

Global Health

Obama May Change International Health Funding

Obama May Change International Health Funding

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Public health experts from Afghanistan were on Capitol Hill Tuesday warning about the dire health problems facing women and children in that country. The Obama administration is considering refocusing international funding to address the health problems of women and children worldwide. Critics say that could mean no growth for AIDS treatment even as the epidemic increases.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Among all its other problems Afghanistan has the world's second highest rate of maternal and child mortality. The United States has been spending money there to bring those rates down, and Afghanistan's health minister was on Capitol Hill yesterday talking about the efforts. Whatever the efforts, progress has been limited. And that has a bearing on the Obama administration's foreign policy objectives worldwide. NPR News's Brenda Wilson reports.

BRENDA WILSON: President Obama tends to talk about a broad global health strategy that focuses on maternal and child health and family planning. You hear less about the emergency plan for AIDS relief that was started by President Bush. HIV and AIDS still get the bulk of U.S. funding for global health - about $5.5 billion a year - but funding for family planning and maternal and child health are now rising on the budget line to about half a billion dollars next year.

Afghanistan's minister of health, Sayed Fatemi, says the assistance for basic health care is crucial in gaining support for the government against the Taliban.

Mr. SAYED FATEMI (Health minister, Afghanistan): If we invest today in the health sector of Afghanistan, and health of mothers and children, we guarantee a better health, as well as a better quality of life for all Afghans, which will result in peaceful, stable, prosperous, united Afghanistan.

WILSON: Over the next five years the U.S. has committed $230 million directly to health in Afghanistan, whose government has already built 2,000 health facilities since the collapse of the Taliban regime. Infant mortality is declining, but tens of thousands of women still die giving birth each year.

Worldwide, half a million women die from pregnancy related causes. And Neal Stalair(ph), a senior fellow at the Global Health Council, says maternal and child health programs like the one in Afghanistan are needed to address the problem.

Mr. NEAL STALAIR (Senior fellow, Global Health Council): This is not the kind of huge investment that we've been talking about in the AIDS treatment arena, where the drugs are expensive and challenging to administer. We know how to deal with children's health and we know that basic obstetric care can be delivered at very modest costs in very difficult circumstances.

WILSON: Many who work in HIV/AIDS are concerned, however, by what they see as a shift in focus away from expected increases in AIDS funding. Dr. Ken Mayor, an AIDS specialist at Brown University says the same people who were trained under President Bush's emergency AIDS relief program, to treat people with HIV/AIDS, have clinical skills that can used in primary health care programs.

Dr. KEN MAYOR (AIDS specialist, Brown University): The scaling up process (unintelligible) is something that can be built upon and certainly shouldn't be seen as that's the old model and now we're going to start from scratch with the new model. I don't think we have the time to do that. I don't think we have the resources to do that.

WILSON: The growing tension between those who see foreign aid as a way of helping poor countries and others who think it should serve foreign policy objectives, has made it difficult for the administration to appoint a director for the State Department's agency for International Development.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

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