HHS Secretary Sebelius on Department's New Global Health Strategy

Jan 5, 2012, 8:17 PM, Posted by

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke today at a packed morning session at the Kaiser Family Foundation about the HHS Global Health Strategy, released late last year.

It’s hardly the first time the department has focused on global health, the Secretary pointed out—ticking off areas such as smallpox eradication, global health assistance programs and partnerships such as biomedical research and disease surveillance. “But most of these efforts were seen as fundamentally separate from our work to improve health here in America,” said Sebelius. “Today, we can no longer separate global health from America’s health and we need to look beyond our borders to improve health inside our country.”

Considerations that prompted the new strategy include:

  • Global pandemics like the H1N1 flu have always been a threat. But today, they can spread faster and more unpredictably than ever before. “A million people drive across our borders, dock in our ports, or land in our airports every day, and any one of them could be bringing a new virus or bug with them,” said Secretary Sebelius.
  • Nearly half of the fruit and over three quarters of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported from abroad, prompting food safety concerns.
  • Many medicines are imported from abroad, often from countries with fewer safety controls than the US.
  • Innovations are needed to reduce the burden of chronic disease and other countries are working on such innovations that could be valuable here in a range of areas, including lowering health costs, training more primary care providers and improving population health.

The strategy has three goals, according to Nils Daulaire, MD, MPH, Director of the HHS Office of Global Affairs:

  • A focus on areas where our work abroad helps protect and promote the health and well-being of Americans such as disease surveillance and treatment research partnerships;
  • Leadership in areas where HHS has special technical expertise, such as NIH research, CDC epidemiology efforts and regulation expertise at the Food and Drug Administration; and
  • Partnerships within the administration to advance U.S. interests, with agencies including the State Department and USAID.

"Health is an issue which aligns the interests of the countries around the world,"said Secretary Sebelius. "A healthier world is one in which every nation will have more productive workers, longer lives and larger markets for its goods and services.”

A key factor now may be that that health has explicitly become a key factor in diplomacy, said Jennifer Kates, Vice President and Director of Global Health and HIV Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Kates said the previous polling by Kaiser showed that public surveys in more than forty countries, showed, unexpectedly, that countries that had the most developmental assistance from the U.S. were the most favorable toward the U.S.

Daulaire says the guiding principles for the U.S. strategy on global health include:

  • Leverage strength through partnerships
  • Respond to local needs and build on local capacity
  • Ensure lasting and measureable impact, and verify the impact rigorously
  • Emphasize prevention
  • Focus on improving equity in health

>>Read more on global health.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.