Recently, the Lancet posted yet another article on Obama’s Global Health Initiative. In it, the writer points out the numerous failures of the GHI. The $63 billion budget was not new money and was instead a new label for funds already budgeted elsewhere. Where GHI differed was in its goal to place all of the leadership under one organization. A central office was created, but this was shut down in July. The article then focuses its text on the tensions that arose when USAID took over as the leaders of the program. I could go on about the successes and failures of the global health initiatives, but I would prefer to focus on a more important issue. What are the GHIs? It is my belief that productive debate will arise if and only if we are adequately informed.
The Global Health Initiatives focus mainly on infectious disease and strengthening healthcare systems around the world. Prior to the Obama administration, they were many organizations (and if we are to be honest, still act as such). PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS focused on HIV/AIDS. The Global Fund also targeted tuberculosis and malaria. The GAVI Alliance put its efforts into immunization. The World Bank’s MAP dealt with AIDS and nutrition. These are not foci of the United States, and Obama’s plan called for a comprehensive effort similar to (and including) these programs that would combine their efforts to improve their effectiveness.
I will instead focus on the current administration’s global health initiative, without a critique. In November 2009, the goal of the GHI was to double US aid for global health to approximately $16 billion per year in 2011, establish goals for the US to assist in addressing the Millennium Development Goals, and attempt to scale up domestic health efforts. The six areas of focus included HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, reproductive health, health systems, and neglected tropical diseases. The November report made three recommendations. First, the group wished to define measurable GHI targets. These would be US-specific and would focus on the delivery of care. Second, they recommended funding be increased to $95 billion over six years, an increase from the original budget. Finally, the recommended that the GHI focus on outcomes and be people-based. Overall, the recommendations were subtle and not clearly defined, but they hinted at the theme of the GHI. The goal was to provide a comprehensive program in which the United States could better address global health initiatives. This was sold as change from the disease-specific nature of Bush’s programs to one that focused on health systems and delivery.
In July 2012, the GHI office was officially closed by the Obama administration. It was touted as a productive shift, but the reality was that this closure was due to myriad problems encountered by the program. The program lacked core leadership, and those in the developing world had troubles with knowing what defined a GHI project. While it had a huge budget, there were only four full-time employees in the office. The idea remained, but the office did not.
There is far more to this story, but that is what you should know about Obama’s GHI. It was and still is an interesting idea, but it remained an idea. What we need are solutions with better focus.