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Former President Clinton, Bill Gates Encourage U.S. Global Health Investment At Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing

Former President Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said Wednesday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing “that U.S. investments in fighting [HIV/]AIDS, malaria and other diseases in underdeveloped nations save lives and play a vital role in improving America’s image abroad,” the Associated Press reports.

Clinton and Gates “appeared before the panel to discuss U.S. investments in global health and to push for continued support of government programs that address infectious and preventable diseases,” the news service writes. Policy makers “wanted to hear from them how the private sector has addressed global health problems and whether the U.S. government can afford continued foreign aid,” according to the AP (Sanner, 3/10).

Both men “stressed the importance of building health systems in Africa, discussed how [their foundations] operate in places with high levels of corruption, and even waded into some politically dicey waters – both of them called for increased support for ‘voluntary family planning’ abroad,” according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “Government & Politics Watch” blog. They also called on the committee to support President Barack Obama’s budget request for his global health plan (Wilhelm, 3/10).

“I hope you will pass this bill,” Clinton said of Obama’s Global Health Initiative (GHI), Agence France-Presse reports. “It is a very good bill, I think, and I think it is the next logical step” for U.S. global health efforts, Clinton added (3/10). He continued, “We have to build a world with more partners and fewer adversaries … That’s what foreign policy’s about. … If people think you care whether their children live or die, you don’t have to send our young people off to war as often,” CNN reports (3/10).

“Gates implored lawmakers to do a better job of telling Americans about how well U.S. investments in global health are working,” according to Reuters’ “Front Row Washington” blog. “He cited success in nearly eradicating polio, reducing deaths from malaria, and providing 4 million people with [HIV/]AIDS treatment who would have died years ago. ‘These investments are the most effective we can make for improving and saving lives'” (Allen, 3/10).

Gates also said of his foundation’s commitments to global health, “Our resources are but a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed. … The U.S. government is a critical partner in the mission,” Bloomberg/BusinessWeek writes (Peterson, 3/10). According to CNN, “Gates and Clinton acknowledged budget restraints in providing care to people around the world but said the work was important” (3/10).

“Republicans and Democrats alike seemed grateful to both men for their work and sensitive to their claims that the U.S. government could be doing more, since the Obama administration’s 2011 budget request modestly decreases the commitment of the government to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Gates said,” Politico writes. In prepared testimony, Gates said the “president’s budget request would decrease the U.S. commitment to the Global Fund even as the GHI has pledged to place more of an emphasis on multilateral approaches … I hope Congress will work to remedy this,” Politico reports.

Ranking Republican Richard Lugar (Ind.) said, “Even as these foundations focus on helping individuals, they’re playing an increasing role in the public sector in rendering policy assistance to governments. Their actions have set global precedents, have influenced public opinion, and catalyzed international action.” Committee Chair John Kerry (D-Mass.) praised the work of the Clinton and Gates Foundations and said they “have revolutionized the public-private partnership” (Cogin, 3/10). During the hearing, Kerry also said, “A strong global public health system is not merely a favor we do for other countries … It is the right thing to do morally and strategically, and it protects our own citizens,” CNN reports (3/10). 

After the hearing, Gates discussed his concerns about U.S. funding for global health with The Hill. “This budget is an increase, so that’s good but it’s not enough of an increase to be on a linear track,” he said (Bolton, 3/10). Statements and a video recording of the hearing are available on the Committee’s Web site.

Gates Foundation, Asian Group Awarded U.N. Population Award

In related news, the “Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD) were selected Tuesday [as] winners of the 2010 U.N. Population Award,” Indo Asian News Service reports (3/10). 

“Established by the General Assembly in 1981, the U.N. Population Award is given annually to individuals and institutions for outstanding contributions to population concerns and their solutions,” the Inquirer’s “Global Nation” blog writes (3/10). According to a UNFPA press release, the Gates Foundation is receiving the award for their work, which focus on the “simple premise” that “all lives have equal value.” The AFPPD’s “main goal, according to a report to the Award Committee, is to inform, educate, motivate and involve parliamentarians on issues related to reproductive health, family planning, food security, ageing, urbanization, migration, HIV and AIDS and women’s empowerment.” The award presentation will take place on June 3 at a U.N. ceremony (3/10).