President Obama: Forward on Development and Global Health

President Obama: Forward on Development and Global Health

Democratic Republic of the Congo {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Last night, while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) visiting our programs, I attended a US election-eve gathering of mostly Congolese people in Kinshasa. The DRC is one of those “distant nations” President Obama was referring to in his early morning acceptance speech today, where people are, “risking their lives just for… the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”

Fragile, conflict-ridden nations, such as the DRC, struggle with leadership and governance. Its people have been victims of horrific violence, stunning gender inequality, and some of the worst health conditions in the world. They deserve better.

The United States reelected President Barack Obama to lead not only our country, but also to lead on addressing global health and other global development challenges such as those faced by the DRC.

Management Sciences for Health (MSH), a global non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives and improving health for the poorest and most vulnerable in the world, has long been a partner with the US government, foundations, and other donors, working in more than 140 countries to build stronger and more sustainable health care systems.

In DRC, MSH is working with the Ministry of Health, USAID, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Overseas Strategic Consulting (OSC), and local partners to expand access to high impact health care services. Health care systems in fragile states are often not up to the task of providing accessible, quality health care. Women and children bear the brunt of these problems.

Simply to have a child in a country like the DRC is a risky proposition for most women. A woman in the DRC faces a one in 30 chance of dying from complications arising from pregnancy or childbirth over her lifetime --- nearly 200 times that of women in Europe or North America. Even if a new mother survives childbirth, poor health and lack of access to high quality prevention and treatment services can have tragic consequences for her child; there is over a one in ten chance that her baby will not live celebrate his or her fifth birthday.

These are depressing statistics. But there are readily available and cost-effective solutions: family planning, maternal and newborn health interventions, malaria prevention and treatment, and strong community health worker programs. Supported by the US government in partnership with numerous host country governments, such interventions have been proven to improve health and save lives, especially in fragile states.

Under President Obama’s leadership, development has become a pillar of foreign policy alongside diplomacy and defense. The Obama Administration has made great strides in its support and leadership on child survival and maternal health, as well as working towards an AIDS-free generation. This work builds on US investments made under previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic.

As a family physician --- who through the work of MSH now has whole countries as “patients” --- I have been gratified to see how richly these investments have paid off. The US government --- in partnership with local government leaders, non-profit organizations like MSH, the private sector, foundations and individuals --- has made remarkable progress in global health over the past twenty years. Since 1990 the global under-five mortality rate has dropped 41 percent --- from 87 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 51 in 2011. Maternal mortality has also seen dramatic improvements. The number of women dying each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved in 20 years, Between 1990 and 2010, the annual number of maternal deaths dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000.

It’s imperative that these investments in global health continue over the next four years.

To nations such as the DRC, US leadership serves as a model of what can be done cooperatively to find solutions to challenging global health problems. Working together with the private sector, investments in global health by the US government are some of the best investments we can make as a nation. New and emerging diseases do not respect national borders. Countries without a healthy and productive workforce cannot maintain a stable economy or government. Our investments not only save lives, but contribute to national security and economic stability.

Over the next four years, President Obama will have the very important role of leading US participation in the review of the Millennium Development Goals, which end in 2015, and in shaping the next global set of goals and commitments toward poverty elimination and sustainable development. Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act will also lead the US’s reform toward universal health coverage, joining dozens of nations that have already adopted affordable, appropriate, and accessible health care for their citizens. And over the next few months, Congress will have to make critical decisions on development funding needed to save lives globally.

With a global team of 2300 staff from more than 70 nations, MSH looks forward to even more leadership on global health by President Obama and the Congress in the years ahead.

Jonathan D. Quick, MD, MPH, is president and chief executive officer of Management Sciences for Health. Dr. Quick has worked in international health since 1978. He is a family physician and public health management specialist.