Elton John and Pastor Rick Warren team up for global health

Last week, the United States Senate Appropriations subcommittee held a hearing on the State Department global health programs. Experts and leaders in the global health field offered testimony to the importance of U.S. global health investments. And their were joined by a seemingly unlikely pairing, Elton John and Pastor Rick Warren.

Coming from nearly polar opposite ends of the socio-political spectrum, John and Warren appear to agree that the U.S. government should protect and support its global health budget.

“I believe that it will take three catalytic factors in order to eradicate HIV, malaria and TB,” said Warren, head of the Saddleback Church and founder of the Global Peace Plan. “First, we must form a new perspective on foreign assistance. Second, we must forge a new partnership in distribution. And third, we must fund a new priority in the budget, which would include ending sequestration.”

He went on to argue that investing in foreign aid programs are a far more effective investment than sending soldiers off to war. John, who created an AIDS foundation bearing his own name in 1992, agreed with Warren. He commended the achievements of the president’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a program launched by President George W. Bush more than a decade ago.

“Because of the actions of this Congress, the course of the AIDS epidemic was altered for all of humanity. Because the American people had the optimism, the ingenuity, and the will to make a difference, the lives of millions of people half way around the world have been saved. But I’m here today with a simple message: The AIDS epidemic is not over, and America’s continued leadership is critical,” said John in his remarks.

The pairing of John and Warren is unusual given their diverging beliefs. John is a leading activist for HIV/AIDS and gay rights. Warren is a very popular pastor who has made clear that he believes marriage is only between men and women. But the two allies on global health greeted each other warmly. Warren joked that if he and John were to kiss it would be “the kiss heard ’round the world.”

credit: Kaiser Family Foundation

credit: Kaiser Family Foundation

After roughly a decade of continued growth, U.S. spending on global health plateaued at about $9 billion in 2010, up from $1.7 billion in 2001. The sequestration deal made in Congress led to an across-the-board reduction in government spending, including global health. The message from all people testifying before the Senate subcommittee was to restore spending to pre-sequestration levels. And there appears to be strong support within Congress and from both parties.

“We’re literally inside the ten yard line, and the budget cuts that are coming under sequestration will destroy our ability to make progress,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “And we’ll lose many of the gains we have achieved over time.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.