In May 2007, Dr. William H. Frist co-led a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) delegation to Russia to participate in the first St. Petersburg State University Forum on Global Health. The forum explored bi-national cooperation in health and health care delivery, including the exploration of establishing a public health initiative in Russia.At the conclusion of the trip, Senator Frist published the paper: “Improving Russian-U.S. Collaboration on Health” (Washington Quarterly, 30:4, 2007, pp. 7-17) which focused on how Russia and the U.S., in a time fraught with tension, could work together to solve public health issues in terms of policy, behavioral change, and chronic disease. Both could emerge as better, healthier, more viable countries, with health partnerships strengthening diplomatic relations.
Senator Frist, a trustee at CSIS, was instrumental in establishing the Global Health Policy Center, and he served on the advisory board of the Commission for Smart Global Health Policy. This commission created the report, “A Healthier, Safer, and More Prosperous World,” as the product of a year’s worth of study of the long-term U.S. strategic approach to global health. Dr. Frist, in addition, serves as a co-chair of the Eurasia Health Project as a part of the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program.
Initiation of the idea of receiving a Russian delegation of high level physicians in Tennessee began with a discussion among Russian and American experts in global health at CSIS in May 2009. Co-chaired by Senator William Frist, former Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate and CSIS Trustee, and Dr. Nikolai Gerasimenko, First Vice Chair of the Russian Duma’s Committee on Health Protection, the panel weighed new ideas for future Russian-U.S. joint initiatives and generated considerable shared excitement. CSIS Senior Associate Judyth Twigg played the lead role in conceptualizing and coordinating the session. Approximately twenty additional experts on U.S.-Russian collaboration on health, representing government, academia, and the private sector, contributed significantly to these discussions, which amounted to a brainstorming session for a blueprint for strategic bi-national collaboration on health.
Dr. Andrew C. Kuchins, Director and Senior Fellow, CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program, and Dr. Judyth Twygg have been part of this effort to bring Russians to the U.S. from the beginning. On January 31, 2011 the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program hosted a conference as part of the Eurasia Health Project entitled, "Sharing Health: U.S.-Russian Collaboration in the Health Sector.” Dr. Nikolai Gerasimenko, a long-standing member of the Russian parliament and former chair of its health committee, served as the Russian Co-Chair along with Senator Bill Frist from the U.S. This meeting, which discussed U.S. and Russian efforts in health sector reform, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and regional-level efforts at health reform, was intended to generate momentum toward meaningful communication and collaboration between the two countries at both the governmental and non-governmental levels. Senator Frist’s article, “What the Doctor Orders” (Foreign Policy, 9/11/09) highlights the key findings and conclusions of this conference.
While serving in the U.S. Senate, Dr. Frist worked alongside Alaska Senator Ted Stevens and Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to establish the Open World Program by an act of Congress in 2000. The Open World Leadership Center conducts the first and only international exchange agency in the U.S. Legislative Branch and, as such, has enabled more than 16,500 current and future leaders from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan to meaningfully engage and interact with Members of Congress, Congressional staff, and thousands of other Americans, many of whom are the delegates’ direct professional counterparts. Senator Frist served on the board of Open World from 2003 to 2010.
Prompted by Senator Bill Frist, M.D., Senator Lamar Alexander sent a request to James Billington, Chairman of the Board of Open World Leadership Center, to host a health exchange with Russian health professionals in the state of Tennessee. Dr. Billington responded in a Letter to Senator Alexander with enthusiasm:
“Having hosted nearly 400 Georgian, Kyrgyzstani, Russian, Ukrainian, and Uzbekistani participants—including health leaders—in Tennessee, Open World has an excellent statewide network of local host organizations and host families there. I am confident that, working with Senator Frist and his staff, you and your staff, and CSIS, Open World can carry out an exceptionally strong program on health care that will benefit both the Russian delegates and the participating Tennesseans.”
Open World agreed to provide nominations for the Russian delegates, and the Open World Moscow staff worked with the Administration of Kirov Region with approval of Governor Nikita Belykh.High rates of communicable and chronic diseases, outdated medical equipment and facilities, and inadequate health care financing have contributed to a health care crisis in Russia. Open World provides grants for a Health Care Provision to address the issues relating to the delivery of services for patients with communicable or non-communicable diseases as well as at-risk individuals. Open World hopes that the outcome of this exchange is a medical partnership between the State of Tennessee and the Kirov Region.
Senator Frist has assisted directly in the organization of the statewide effort to place the Russian physicians in programs across Tennessee consistent with their interests in rural health, academic medicine, information technology, and health service delivery.
Senator Frist has had a longstanding commitment to “using health as a currency for peace.” Health care partnerships and exchanges of information provide powerful and robust contributions to diplomatic relations between the peoples of two countries. Such health diplomacy contributes to better understanding among nations and leads to dialogue in other spheres of human and government interaction. “Health as a currency for peace” allows individuals to be a part of missions greater than themselves and provides a way for America to begin to think about a long-term vision for building bridges of trust around the world, in both G8 nations as well as developing ones. Building Russian-U.S. collaboration in health care will benefit the foreign and public diplomacy of our nations and a better quality of life for the citizens of both nations.
Last week, the Russian delegates arrived and spent time with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Kaiser Family Foundation, and National Institutes for Health in Washington, D.C. For the weekend, the delegates separated into two groups to tour both Knoxville and Memphis, Tennessee. In Knoxville, the delegates enjoyed a football game and other festivities and today they will visit De Royal Industries. In Memphis, the delegates visited St. Jude Children's Hospital, the National Civil Rights Museum and Beale Street over the weekend. Today, they will tour the Shelby County Health Department and Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. We are excited to host these health professionals in the State of Tennessee!
We will keep you apprised daily of their activities this week.