Obama Administration


Visualizing gun deaths – Comparing the U.S. to rest of the world | 

JohnWayneWhen it comes to gun violence, the United States stands out.

President Obama’s nominee for surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, a renowned Boston-based physician, has advocated for stricter gun-control laws and referred to the U.S. rates of gun violence as a public health threat.  Murthy’s views have ignited opposition from the gun lobby and politicians on both sides of the aisle, virtually assuring an end to his bid to become the U.S.’s top public health official.

In any debate about gun control and violence prevention, it is useful to examine data on gun deaths.

How does the US stack up against other countries when it comes to homicides involving guns? The screen grab below, which uses findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, illustrates the  difference in firearm homicide rates between the US and other high-income countries. Adjusting for differences in population size, rates of homicides from guns were  6.6 times larger in the US than in Portugal, the country with one of the highest rates in Western Europe.

Firearm homicide rates in selected high-income countries, 2010

Gun Violence

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Back to the fuzzy future in global health | 


Globe kid
Flickr, woodleywonderworks

The global health community seems at a loss these days, as indicated by two conferences yesterday I web-participated in devoted to coming up with a future game plan for the field. I’ll get to those, but first some context:

I am long-in-tooth enough to remember when ‘global health’ didn’t exist, not by name anyway, before Bill Gates got into philanthropy and when the only ‘Third World’ disease most of us in the West cared about was AIDS.  And we cared only because that disease figured out how to spread beyond its original confines in Africa. Today, it can seem like everybody and their mother wants a piece of the global health bandwagon.

Or they did anyway, when funding for fighting diseases of poverty in poor communities (my definition of global health, which is debatable) was increasing at the rate of Starbucks franchises.

Global health’s golden age began somewhere around the year 2000 and was due in part to the meteoric rise of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I think it’s fair to say the Seattle philanthropy revolutionized and resurrected many neglected areas of international health by greatly expanding efforts in children’s immunizations worldwide as well as reinvigorating many moribund fields like malaria and tuberculosis research.

But it wasn’t just because of the Gates Foundation that global health took off. The now almost unimaginable toll taken by AIDS in Africa and other parts of the developing world had become intolerable, at least for many AIDS activists, human rights groups and public health experts. Continue reading

Global health advocates deal with losing clout | 

Somali mothers and their babies wait for vaccines at a health center in Mogadishu, Somalia. One million children still die at birth every year due to lack of care.
Somali mothers and their babies wait for vaccines at a health center in Mogadishu, Somalia. One million children still die at birth every year due to lack of care.

For the first time in nearly 15 years, the US government is poised to reduce its investment in global health.

The Obama Administration, which has long had a fairly spotty, confused and yet self-congratulory approach to fighting diseases of poverty, has submitted a budget request that has disturbed many in the global health community who, for more than a decade, saw themselves as at the top of the aid and development hierarchy.

Here’s a good breakdown of Obama’s $50 billion foreign assistance request from the Center for Global Development’s Casey Dunning. Global health would still get a big chunk, $8.1 billion, but that represents a nearly 5 percent cut from last year. And, as Humanosphere reported yesterday, some say we’re still not spending nearly enough if the goal here is to drive health improvements as a means to reducing global poverty.

Christine Sow
Christine Sow

“The request is much lower than anyone expected,” said Christine Sow, the new director of the new-and-improved Global Health Council (GHC), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that itself caused some confusion and consternation when it suddenly announced it was shutting down in mid-2012.

Sow was in Seattle this week to meet with others, like those at the Washington Global Health Alliance, to revive and re-orient the case for keeping global health at the top of the development agenda. Continue reading

Visualizing global energy poverty, and what we can do about it | 

There’s some big things happening on the energy front in Africa, thanks in large part to the Obama Administration’s Power Africa initiative.

If you want to know why this is such a big deal, and a big need, this post featuring seven graphic illustrations from Todd Moss and Madeleine Gleave at the Center for Global Development offers an excellent overview.

The authors note that 600 million Africans today live without power, seriously undermining their lives on all sorts of fronts – health, economic opportunity, safety and efficiency. But the solution won’t just be about bringing more power to the poor; Moss and Gleave make it clear rich countries need to make some changes as well.

Here’s one of the graphics from the post by Moss and Gleave:


Read the entire (short) post at CGD and take a look at the other six illustrations. A great and easy-to-digest overview of the global energy landscape.


Why isn’t the humanitarian community united on reforming food aid? | 

Tom Paulson reported this week on a disagreement between aid groups on the Obama administration’s proposed common-sense reforms to the country’s food aid. The US is the largest food aid supplier in the world, routinely sending food overseas to humanitarian hotspots. But it does so in a remarkably outdated and inefficient way.

For this week’s podcast, we invited two humanitarian heavyweights to weigh in: World Vision (based in Federal Way, WA), which opposes the food aid reforms, and Oxfam, a supporter of the measures. World Vision told us they wanted to participate but reversed themselves at the last moment. So Tom spoke at length with Eric Munoz, a senior policy advisor based in Oxfam’s Washington D.C. office, and Jonathan Scanlon from the group’s Seattle office, about the issues.

We’re curious: What exactly is wrong with food aid right now? (Spoiler: the system was designed in the 1950s.) The harder question is, what should be changed? Who are the political constituencies involved and why are groups like World Vision opposed? And what are the prospects, realistically, for the reforms being encated? These questions have enormous implications for places like Haiti, Somalia, and so many others around the globe where American food aid is delivered.

But first we discuss the headlines, including China’s startling rates of cancer and the multi-trillion dollar economic cost of malnutrition. Tune in below.

Food Aid Fight: World Vision battles Oxfam within the Iron Triangle | 

BelushiEditor’s note: Members of the humanitarian community say they just want to feed the hungry and do not wish to be characterized as fighting with each other over food aid.

Too bad. They are fighting with each other, over an effort to reform America’s long-standing approach to food aid – an approach that many experts agree is unequaled when it comes to being self-serving and wasteful. A look at two key players in the politics of fixing food aid.

Food Farm Market
Flickr, pinehurst19475

Maybe you’ve heard of the nearly trillion-dollar U.S. Farm Bill.

News reports on this massive, quinquennial (every five years) piece of Congressional legislation often devolve into some inside-baseball rant over one particular item like farm subsidies or food stamps – or, conversely, seem as unwieldly and difficult to follow as a blimp in a tornado. That’s why most non-farmers or non-agribusiness types normally don’t pay much attention to this massive bill despite the fact that it affects every one of us. It’s about food, after all.

One of the many special interests embedded within the Farm Bill is international food aid. This is a $1.8 billion collection of programs with names like Food for Peace or Food for Progress nominally created by our country’s desire to feed the hungry and needy overseas. Nearly a billion people suffer from hunger worldwide and the U.S. is the world’s leading supplier of food aid.

Food aid is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contended issues in the frequently hotly contended Farm Bill. Continue reading

Five Things To Know About the White House Foreign Aid Budget Proposal | 

tumblr_lth6cvIy6L1r3sjono1_400If you remember how a bill becomes a law from your Schoolhouse Rock days, you already know that the the White House proposal is just that, a proposal. The real work is getting agreement in the House and Senate to get a bill that lands on the desk of the President. If all goes well, President Obama signs that budget. The problem here is that the House and Senate are led by opposing parties with different ideas on how to deal with the financial troubles that face the United States.

The usual order of things goes that the President sends recommendations to the congressional bodies and then they hammer out the details. This time it is the other way around.

This proposal comes two months later than expected. It offers plenty to snack on, but below are five highlights – the good, the bad, the ugly and the rest. Continue reading

Obama delivers on global promise to lesbian, gay, bi- and transgender community | 

Obama 2008 Presidential CampaignThe Obama administration made good on its 2011 memorandum to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights with the announcement of a four year LGBT Global Development Partnership.

The collaborative effort between USAID, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, gay rights groups and private sector actors will bring foreign assistance to support LGBT equality in developing countries.

“I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” said President Obama in December of 2011. Continue reading