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Global Health Experts Discuss Legislative Landscape Of 112th Congress At Kaiser Family Foundation Panel

U.S. global health programs did relatively well in terms of funding in the FY11 budget, but global health policy experts participating in a panel discussion on Wednesday at the Kaiser Family Foundation acknowledged that challenges remain as Congress begins debate on the FY12 budget.

“We lost a lot of champions in Congress” since the midterm elections, Todd Summers, a senior advisor for global health at the ONE Campaign, said during the discussion, which examined the legislative landscape of the 112th Congress. When members of Congress went behind closed-doors to discuss the FY11 budget, there were fewer people with deep understandings of the issues to explain which accounts should be funded and why, Summers said. “But new people are stepping up,” he added.  

“There’s no question that the deficit situation has changed everything,” according to Allen Moore, a senior advisor for global health security at the Stimson Center, who said that in light of the U.S. budget situation, global health advocates have to redefine success. “We have very hard days ahead,” he noted.

Beth Tritter, managing director of The Glover Park Group, said global health advocates need to adjust their message in the current environment. “What’s at play here is a much larger question,” according to Tritter.

The discussion, which was moderated by Jennifer Kates, vice president and director for global health & HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, touched on several issues, including positioning global health as a national security issue and the Hill’s receptiveness to President Obama’s Global Health Initiative (GHI), which includes PEPFAR.

“In the current political environment, if it’s PEPFAR versus the Global Fund in the Congress, PEPFAR wins, the Global Fund loses,” Moore said when describing the budget pressures on the Hill and lawmakers’ mixed perceptions of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Summers pointed out that Global Fund money often complements PEPFAR’s work. “PEPFAR has been a phenomenal success. Americans should just be thrilled that their money has been used so effectively to help so many people and the Global Fund is often there hand-in-hand with them in country,” he pointed out. “The Global Fund is literally a collection of donors working together to send resources into the country. There’s none of the technical assistance, there are no offices outside of Geneva where they’re based,” according to Summers. “In reality it’s not PEPFAR vs. Global Fund.”

“Some people will always be uncomfortable with multilateral institutions,” Tritter said, adding that anti-U.N. sentiment is rampant in Congress at the moment.

Toward the end of the discussion, Moore highlighted how recent discussions about family planning and abortion politics have affected the global health funding debate. “I hate it that this family planning piece was the only thing that got reduced” in the FY11 budget deal, Moore said, adding that family planning funding has seen very little growth over the last 10 years. “And it did because of this suspicion out there that there’s this link to abortion,” he said.

“The U.S. does not pay for abortions abroad. They just don’t. It has been in law for several years and it’s probably going to be in law for several more years, if not indefinitely,” Tritter said.

“It’s interesting how so much here is language and how certain phrases become so energized politically,” Summers observed, adding that the technical meaning ends up being lost.

Video and audio of the panel along with additional resources are available online (Schiff, 4/22).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.