Janese Heavin
October 9, 2007
Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune
Helping developing countries around the world deal with deadly but curable illnesses could be the key to promoting worldwide peace, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told Rock Bridge High School students this morning.

"I see global health as a currency for peace around the world," the Tennessee Republican said today in a conference call with Matt Cone's contemporary issues class. "Medicine is built on trust. Medicine is built on humanity. Medicine is built on tolerance. I am absolutely convinced the more we can do with health around the world, the more we can do for peace around the world. You don't go to war with somebody who has just saved the life of your child."

Frist, a physician, is teaching global health courses at Princeton University after stepping down last year after 12 years in the U.S. Senate. In an hourlong chat, Frist outlined his goal to save at least two-thirds of the roughly 28,000 children younger than 5 who die daily from curable or preventable illnesses.

The tools are cheap, he said. Clean water alone could prevent thousands of youngsters from dying of dehydration. Inexpensive mosquito nets could prevent malaria. And simple immunizations could combat tuberculosis.

"None of these things are expensive," he said. "They're not high-tech. They're not complicated."

The HIV/AIDS problem is trickier, Frist said. Although he praised President George W. Bush for allocating billions of dollars to the crisis, he said more needs to be done.
"Are we winning the battle? Not yet," he said. "We can't treat our way out of the global HIV epidemic."

Frist has teamed up with rock activist Bono of the band U2 to raise awareness of AIDS. The duo has traveled to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan to witness firsthand the global crisis. Frist also has led an international AIDS task force and pushed for the federal CARE Act, which allocates funds for domestic AIDS problems.

His interest in doing more for the cause almost sparked a 2008 presidential bid.

But Frist told the students he decided against running because of the political shift in Washington and because he wanted to do more behind-the-scenes work. "It will be interesting to see whether or not, in retrospect, it was the right thing to do, not to run," he said. "But there's a lot to do on the outside."

One of his latest efforts is ONE Vote '08, a bipartisan campaign to make global health care a priority. Frist teamed up with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to launch the campaign, which outlines goals such as combating diseases and reducing hunger. Frist urged students to visit the campaign's Web site, www.onevote08.org ; write to legislators and candidates; and to get parents interested.

Senior Rebecca Akutekha, a 17-year-old who lived in Kenya until she was 13, said she appreciated Frist's efforts. "I think they're important, the things he talked about," Rebecca said. "And he actually went there and visited instead of just talking about it."

Junior Jamie Andes, 17, who considers herself a Democrat, said she appreciated the bipartisan focus.

"I forgot he was even Republican until halfway through the discussion," she said. "This is not a political issue. It's about helping people no matter what, and that's really cool. He's a pretty inspiring man."