There was a different kind of health care debate Wednesday on Capitol Hill. The topic was how the United States can best build on the success of its global efforts to combat AIDS and malaria. Members of Congress received advice from two leaders in global health – a former U.S. president and a technology tycoon.
Bill Clinton and Bill Gates sat side-by-side at a witness table before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Their goal: to convince Congress to spend more to fight disease and provide basic medical services in some of the poorest countries around the world.
Former President Clinton called it a “moral imperative,” and a foreign policy priority. “This is not complicated,” he said. “When people think you care whether their kids live or die, they like you pretty well!”
And to those concerned about the cost of foreign aid, Mr. Clinton said it costs far less to save lives than to lose them in battle. “We have to build a world with more partners and fewer adversaries,” he said.
The former president cited Haiti as an example of a country where the link between health and security is strong. “If we can build a healthy Haiti and one where the economy works well, then there is much less incentive for it to be a drug transshipment point,” he said.
Together, the William J. Clinton, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations have saved countless lives in the world’s poorest countries.
The Gates Foundation has invested billions of dollars in AIDS prevention and treatment, and other health challenges. And the Clinton Foundation has worked with drug manufacturers to get medicines to those most in need.
Bill Gates – the founder of the Microsoft computer software firm – told the Senate committee that improving health is an important first step in bringing countries out of poverty, and making them stable and prosperous. “The countries we are talking about have terrible health problems. We have to solve those problems to get them on the path to self-sufficiency,” he said.
Gates said these efforts represent America at its best. “I do think this work has a substantial impact on how the country is viewed – a willingness to take our science, our innovation and have it benefit the poorest people in the world,” he said.
Congress is working on legislation to fund an expanded U.S. government role in global health. Unlike the debate over domestic health care reform, there has been a remarkable degree of bipartisanship in promoting health internationally.
Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold has worked on Senate legislation to fund the global battle against malaria and AIDS. “This has been an area at a time when people despair of bipartisanship – bipartisanship has been superb on both of these issues for years and, I think, Americans should know,”
The programs that form the basis for President Barack Obama’s global health initiative were launched by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Top Democratic and Republican lawmakers are involved in drafting legislation to expand America’s global health role.