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Obama administration seeks $63B for world health

The Obama administration wants the United States to spend $63 billion over the next six years to fight global diseases and provide more aid for prenatal and postnatal care, children’s health and fighting tropical diseases.

“We cannot fix every problem,” President Obama said in a statement Tuesday. “But we have a responsibility to protect the health of our people, while saving lives, reducing suffering, and supporting the health and dignity of people everywhere. America can make a significant difference in meeting these challenges and that is why my administration is committed to act.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the plan is part of a foreign policy that leaves the United States in a more secure and stable relationship with poor countries by improving this country’s image.

“Our investments in programs to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB and other preventable diseases save millions of lives, reduce maternal and child mortality, and reflect our nation’s leadership as a positive force for progress around the world,” Clinton said.

The initiative, announced by Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew at the White House, continues an effort begun under President George W. Bush to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Lew called it “an extraordinary step to save the lives of men, women and children” and said it links U.S. national security policy with carrying out a moral obligation to help the world’s poorest and most threatened populations.

“Our announcement today exemplifies a strategy we’re bringing to bear across our foreign aid programs, even as we address crises in regions with conflict, we need to make the investments necessary to prevent such crises from occurring in the future,” he said. “We are ramping up efforts to fight poverty, food insecurity and disease with solutions that will leave behind the tools to sustain long-term progress.”

The Bush administration pushed for funding to improve health in the world’s poorest places, arguing that some of those places could otherwise be breeding grounds for terrorism and anti-American sentiment. By helping those populations, Washington hoped to improve the United States’ image and security.

Lew praised the Bush-era policies, known in part as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR.

“When we talk about development and diplomacy, we mean the United States needs to be affirmatively active dealing with some of the root causes of instability in so many poor countries,” Lew said. “If people can’t provide for the basic needs of their family … it’s a dangerous situation.”

Obama plans to release his budget proposal in detail on Thursday. Ahead of the formal announcement, the White House has been detailing pieces of it, including $8.6 billion for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The request is a $460 million increase over this year’s budget.

Critics of the plan said the increase falls short of a campaign pledge. On his still-active campaign Web site, Obama posted his 2007 Global AIDS Day statement calling on a $1 billion annual increase in PEPFAR funding over five years.

“This proposal is even worse than we had feared,” said Christine Lubinski, director of the Center for Global Health Policy. “With this spending request, Obama has broken his campaign promise to provide $1 billion a year in new money for global AIDS, and he has overlooked the growing threat of tuberculosis.”

Rock star and anti-poverty activist Bono, who performed at an Obama concert in the lead-up to the inauguration, praised the increase in funding.

“The question is no longer whether we can fight these diseases in the poorest countries, it is how much do we want to do? The president is answering ‘a lot,”‘ the Irish singer said in a statement released from his advocacy group, ONE. “His strategic leadership on these issues is protecting the long-term interests of the people in his own country as well as saving vulnerable lives overseas.”

If Obama wins approval of his budget request, the U.S. commitment would constitute more than 70 percent of global health funding.

Last year, Congress passed and Bush signed legislation to triple U.S. spending from $15 billion over the previous five years to $48 billion covering 2009 and the next four years.

Lew said the “challenge that we have now is to take the things that we’ve learned … and build on it.”

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