Developing nations are taking the lead on healthcare access — US could learn from them
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Right now, Senate Republicans are trying to reach a consensus on a health care bill and bring it to a vote before the July 4 break. It is a bill that was crafted outside of the public eye, one that is attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act and end Medicaid as we know it. But while U.S. leaders are bent on pushing legislation to reduce access to health care, the rest of the world is focused on increasing people’s ability to get the care they need, including in developing countries.

During its 70th World Health Assembly in May, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a historic leap on the path toward equity and diversity in leadership by electing Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the Director General, its highest office. He is the first African to ever hold this position. 

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At the same time on the WHO stage: United States Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, the United States’ highest ranking health official, offered encouraging words about strengthening global cooperation. Yet these two health leaders cannot be more different.

 

Ghebreyesus saved lives in his home country of Ethiopia and is now poised to save even more on a global scale. An experienced health leader with a history of positive results, Dr. Ghebreyesus reduced deaths from multiple infectious and chronic diseases that primarily impact women and children and did so within a conservative and restrictive government. Yet we can’t help but contrast Dr. Ghebreyesus’ leadership and commitment to implementing programs and policies that support the health of children and families with Secretary Price’s own impact in the United States.

Ghebreyesus’ leadership has led to a clear positive trajectory for health outcomes in Ethiopia. As Minister of Health of Ethiopia, Ghebreyesus developed multiple programs that reduced maternal and child mortality including the training of a 38,000 person strong cadre of health extension workers that are creating a community driven system with women at its core.

Under Dr. Ghebreyesus’ leadership from 2005-2012, the country's health infrastructure was expanded, creating 3,500 health centers and 16,000 health posts to reach the remotest parts of the country, establishing an ambulance system, and increasing access to laboratories. Key health outcomes improved dramatically. Malaria mortality dropped by 75 percent, while TB mortality decreased by 64 percent. Ethiopia lost the dubious distinction of having the highest incidence of HIV infections in Africa; the country has the lowest incidence rate of East African countries. As he ascends to the global stage, Ghebreyesus continues to display strong vision and leadership. 

Here in the United States, however, Secretary Price appears to be the polar opposite, dedicated to advancing policies that would reduce access to health care, undermine women’s health and allow religious beliefs to override science and public health. He has been leading the Administration’s charge to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to cut Medicaid. He is publicly promoting the American Health Care Act, the Republican House bill that would result in 23 million people losing health insurance, defund

Planned Parenthood, and roll back critical consumer protections such as outlawing insurance companies’ discrimination for pre-existing conditions, and guaranteeing essential benefits like maternity care, prescription drugs, and mental health services. 

All this to provide an enormous redistribution of wealth to very rich individuals and corporations. This administration’s prioritization of profits over progress makes it clear that the United States health leadership and influence is moving backward, not forward.

Some might say that comparing Director General Ghebreyesus and Secretary Price is comparing apples to oranges, since Ethiopia’s and the U.S.’s health challenges are widely different — not to mention what Dr. Ghebreyesus will have to grapple with on a global scale. Here in the United States, we may not have to deal with cholera epidemics, but recent outbreaks of diseases like measles show that the United States too struggles with basic public health disease prevention, not to mention increasing maternal mortality rates over the last 15 years,(CDC Foundation) which were noted in Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report as the worst record in the developed world.

Secretary Price said, “Global health security begins at home.” We agree completely. Secretary Price would do well to look to Dr. Ghebreyesus leadership in addressing pressing health disparities with limited means. We need our health leader to harness the United States’ tremendous resources to improve health outcomes for everyone in our nation. We must pursue global health security through sustained investments in global health and by backing research-based, proven solutions — domestically and internationally. 

Krista Scott is the Senior Director of Child Care Health Policy at Child Care Aware of America; Uzma Alam PhD, MPH, is a global health practitioner, and Sinsi Hernández-Cancio is an expert in health care policy, health equity, and Latino issues. All are participants in the Allies for Reaching Community Health Equity Public Voices Fellowship of The OpEd Project.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.