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Why should the US invest in global health? Because it’s the right thing to do, because healthy societies are at the heart of global security, because innovation can and does happen, and because we’re at a unique moment in time, when rapid urbanization in developing countries poses as many opportunities as it does challenges.

Those were the messages delivered by speakers at a recent panel discussion on US interests and investments in global health. PATH and the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies sponsored the session, held in Washington, DC, on September 8, 2008. Attendees included staff from Congress, USAID, and NIH as well as representatives from nongovernmental organizations working in global health.

Why should the US invest in global health? A panel discussion in Washington, DC, is led by (left to right) Dr. Alex Ezeh of the African Population and Health Research Center, Dr. Christopher Elias of PATH, Dr. Harvey Fineberg of the US Institute of Medicine, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, and Ambassador Thomas Pickering. Photo: PATH/Doug Palm.

Representative Nita Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, shared her perspective on how global health spending by the United States helps make the US more secure and contributes to economic growth.

“An enlightened foreign policy should not only reinforce our power and prestige, but should improve the living standards and economic opportunities for men and women around the globe,” Representative Lowey said. “Healthy citizens and governments capable of tracking and treating infectious diseases are not a luxury but a necessity in our increasingly integrated world. Open, healthy, functioning societies are at the heart of long-term global security, because they directly confront the conditions that give rise to radicalism and instability.” Read the full text of Representative Lowey’s remarks (44 KB RTF) .

Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, emphasized how investments in research will generate new tools for saving lives in the future.

PATH president and CEO Dr. Christopher Elias spoke to the importance of wise policy choices to ensure that new technologies have optimal public health impact.

The final speaker, Dr. Alex Ezeh, executive director of the African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, Kenya, addressed how the rapid urbanization of communities in sub-Saharan Africa is creating both challenges and opportunities for delivering quality health services.

A wide range of issues emerged during the discussion period, including whether economic challenges in the US will affect n global health investments, whether enough attention is focused on mental health and chronic health conditions, and how we can better support research capacity in low-income countries.

The panel was moderated by Ambassador Thomas Pickering (retired), co-chair of an IOM committee on the US commitment to global health. This IOM committee is at work on a report and recommendations for the incoming US president. The study is an update of the influential recommendations from a 1997 report, America’s Vital Interest in Global Health.

The event took place at the Marian Koshland Science Museum in Washington, DC, which features a special exhibit: Infectious Disease: Evolving Challenges to Human Health.

Posted September 11, 2008.