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US Presidential Candidates Pledge Support to Improve Global Health

  • William Eagle

Both candidates in the upcoming U.S. elections, and their platforms, promise to support investments to improve global health. They say they will enhance funding to reduce maternal and infant mortality, and to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria around the world. From Washington, VOA's William Eagle reports.

Many of the candidates' views on the issues can be found in their parties' platforms, and in their public remarks.

The Democratic Party platform says a Barack Obama administration would work to help achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which aim for dramatic reductions in poverty and improvements in women and children's health over the next seven years.

Senator Obama reiterated that commitment in remarks to the ONE Campaign, a non-partisan campaign to make global health and extreme poverty foreign policy priorities in November's elections.

"I have a grandmother who lives in a little village in Africa without running water or electricity that has been devastated by HIV/AIDS, [and] that is constantly affected by malaria. These are things I understand intimately and personally, and we are going to make development around the world a top most priority for the Obama administration."

One proposal is a global effort called Health Infrastructure 2020, which would enlist the help of the world's top industrial nations to strengthen global health care.

One plan is to help to reverse the emigration of doctors and nurses from the developing world by training new professionals committed to improving health in their own communities.

The Democratic Party platform also calls for doubling foreign assistance to $50 billion to help in the global fight against tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS, avian flu and other diseases.

Development experts credit the Bush administration for its commitment to The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and for the ambitious President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Congress recently authorized $50 billion in U.S. support for HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB programs during the next five years.

Senator John McCain says he supports increased funding for the effort, which he has called one of the United States' best international initiatives.

He explained his position to the ONE Campaign. "I would continue many of the programs that the Bush administration is carrying out; continuing funding for combating HIV/AIDS, encouraging people like [US billionaires and investors] Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to continue to engage in the magnificent way they are with the billions of dollars of effort," said McCain. "I think that America is all about helping people who are less fortunate than we are, and I would do everything we could to alleviate some of the difficulties including [support for the provision of] clean water."

Senator McCain has also said he would encourage greater market competition to lower the cost of drugs for HIV/AIDS and other diseases including malaria - one of the top killers of children under five in Africa.

Senator McCain says he has made it a goal, and a matter of policy, to eliminate the disease. On Malaria Awareness day this year, he called for the private sector to match the federal government's financial support in fighting the disease, which amounts to more than $400 million per year. McCain's policy advisers say it is an ambitious effort along the lines of the PEPFAR campaign that will help improve the nation's image worldwide.

Both candidates support global education initiatives, which development experts credit with helping to increase incomes, and reduce poverty and the spread of disease.

Research shows that women who stay in school have children later than those who drop out and marry before their bodies are fully developed. As a result, educated girls often have fewer problems in pregnancy and delivery than their counterparts.

Observers say a Republican administration is likely to build on the Bush administration's African Education Initiative, which has encouraged primary education with teacher training, text books and scholarships for girls. Senator McCain has said a quality education is the right of every child.

Senator Obama says he supports a $2-billion Global Education Fund to support free basic education for every child in the world. "It is good for national security and development around the world. In countries like Indonesia or in Kenya, setting up a school does not cost money but can have huge ramifications."

Development activists support proposals for increased assistance to the developing world. At this point in the campaign, some say only one thing could influence that support, the continuing economic crisis that could weaken Western economies, and lead the world's leadership to look inward.