New US Ambassador says ‘global health diplomacy’ is not just re-branding a stalled strategy

The Obama Administration has a new office, of global health diplomacy. Many wonder if it will amount to much given the track record.

Nearly four years ago, the Obama Administration announced with great enthusiasm the launch of the Global Health Initiative, which it described as a “critical investment in a new, comprehensive global health strategy.”

Then, nothing much happened. Years went by with occasional bits of celebratory fireworks from Sec. of State Hillary Clinton about how important global health is and what leaders we Americans are — or rhetoric about new efforts to coordinate programs and improve efficiencies.

But the GHI never seemed to come together. The economic crisis and other issues appeared to dominate the Administration’s focus and global health mostly remained off the radar. Funding was maintained for the most part, but few saw much of any vision or coherent strategy.

Last summer, the Obama Administration announced it was closing the Global Health Initiative – by elevating it to a diplomatic tier. The response from the global health, aid and development community was (like this and this) largely: “Yeah, right.”

Eric Goosby, a well-known figure in HIV/AIDS circles as U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, was given the additional job of serving as the chief of the State Department’s new Office of Global Health Diplomacy. Today, the Kaiser Foundation held a fascinating discussion and Q&A with Goosby, who has the arguably difficult job of convincing many that the Obama Administration is actually going to do something this time.

I’m watching it now (catching up) and will provide some highlights later.

I should note that Goosby was asked if his new role as the US global health diplomat will include dealing with the deadly fall-out from the CIA pretending to be health workers, doing vaccinations, in Pakistan. Most agree that the Taliban’s latest practice of murdering of polio vaccinators is a direct result of this ill-advised scheme.

Goosby said the “White House is all over that issue already.” Really? How so?

Here is a brief take on Goosby’s talk by Science Speaks, which poses a number of other questions as to what Goosby actually meant. Some will be concerned about the vague rhetoric, so far a hallmark of the Obama Administration’s approach to global health. My question: Is ‘concretize’ a word?

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.