Dallas Morning News | February 12, 2015
By BILL FRIST AND JENNY EATON DYER
The Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that Ebola is still a top-tier global health concern in Americans’ hearts and minds. Although media coverage has slowed, there is still much work to do in West Africa to curb the spread of the virus that has now killed more than 8,500 people. In a promising step forward, the National Institutes of Health just announced that a vaccine trial will soon be available in Liberia.
Sadly, it took the death of Thomas Eric Duncan to prompt real assessments of how prepared local hospitals are to handle a global outbreak. But as a result, our nation is now more aware and more concerned about the tragic loss of life in West Africa and the broader issues of global health.
More than half of Americans believe that the U.S. government offers more than 26 percent of our annual budget in foreign assistance. The reality: Less than 1 percent of our budget goes to global health and development.
As we’ve seen, health issues abroad have a real impact at home. Years of underfunding global health has allowed a virus like Ebola to become a crisis in Africa and reach American soil. If we had spent even one-tenth of our perceived investment, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this position.
We can’t again wait until the crisis is upon us.
We want to encourage Americans to explore foundational global health issues like clean water, vaccines, nutrition, and maternal and child health. Establishing foundations of health and health care better equips populations to respond in times of crisis and outbreak so that global health threats can be more quickly brought under control.
We also urge Congress to prioritize these lifesaving investments in global health. There has been great progress over the past decade as Democrats and Republicans have come together on issues such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and maternal and child health.
Our global health organization, Hope Through Healing Hands, believes that maternal, newborn and child health is a fundamental global health issue, one that — with an emphasis on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies — is a critical issue for the next decade.
More than 6.6 million children die every year in the developing world from preventable, treatable causes. As Bill and Melinda Gates’ annual letter for 2015 notes, this number has been halved since 1990, and we expect to halve it again by 2030. Simple, low-cost measures such as oral rehydration therapy, bed nets to prevent malaria, and access to immunizations have accelerated the reduction of child mortality in developing nations.
More than 289,000 women die every year because of complications from pregnancy or childbirth, with 85 percent of maternal deaths occurring in Africa and South Asia. We can change this, too. More than 80 percent of these deaths are preventable. Skilled care during labor, delivery and up to 48 hours postpartum makes a lifesaving difference.
An underappreciated part of the solution is family planning. When we talk about voluntary family planning in the international context, we mean enabling women and couples to determine the number of pregnancies and their timing, and equipping women to use voluntary methods for preventing pregnancy, not including abortion, that are harmonious with their values and beliefs.
Healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies is also central to achieving other global health goals, such as combating hunger and improving the status of women and girls. Family planning is a key, often hidden engine for additional global health achievements.
While we are grateful for the renewed attention being given to global health concerns, we hope that Americans and their legislators will seize the opportunity to protect funding in these key areas of maternal and child health and international family planning in recognition of long-term national and global benefits.
Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, a physician, is board chairman for the nonprofit Hope Through Healing Hands. Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D., is the group’s executive director. Reach them through www.hopethroughhealinghands.org