Candidates Compared on Global Health Issues

The Lancet has compared the views of Obama and McCain on AIDS and global health differences. They note that compared to Bush, “both candidates support a more collaborative relationship with other countries” but do note some differences:

“Obama has a personal knowledge and interest that is not insignificant”, said J Stephen Morrison, executive director of the HIV/AIDS task force and of the Africa programme for the Center for Strategic & International Studies, based in Washington, DC. “He made sure he was smart around the issues of global health.” Morrison cited Obama’s Kenyan father and his August, 2006, visit to Africa where Obama and his wife Michelle were publicly tested for HIV/AIDS in an attempt to reduce stigma attached to the procedure. “I do not think McCain is indifferent, but I do not think he has the same level of personal knowledge or passion”, Morrison said.

“[McCain has] said much less both about development issues and global health so it’s hard to infer from silence”, said Ruth Levine, vice president for programmes and operations and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD). “It does not feel like a core part of the agenda he would bring in.”

That difference is evident in the candidates’ campaign literature and in their statements about global health. Although McCain is a vocal supporter of the US global AIDS programme—the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)—and has pledged to combat malaria in Africa, his campaign documents are thin on the subject of global health.

Meanwhile, Obama’s campaign promotes proposals to confront HIV/AIDS globally and has a multiple page list of sweeping reforms in international development. “He is really reading the play book of many of the strongest voices in development and in global health”, Levine commented.

Obama supports and calls for changes in PEPFAR, including an additional $1 billion over 5 years to fight the epidemic in southeast Asia, India, and eastern Europe. He also calls for increasing the capacity of health systems to deliver HIV/AIDS treatment. In a move likely to cost him support among pharmaceutical manufacturers, Obama also pledges to “break the stranglehold that a few big drug and insurance companies have” on HIV/AIDS drugs. “Obama supports the rights of sovereign nations to access quality-assured low-cost generic medication to meet their pressing public health needs”, his campaign literature says.

Although supporting US bilateral HIV/AIDS efforts, Obama also advocates more US funding for multilateral programmes and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. US support for the Fund has been a partisan issue; some conservatives are concerned that the organisation does not reflect US policies on issues like sexual abstinence and needle exchange.

Obama also pledges US support to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals. In 2005, he cosponsored the International Cooperation to Meet the Millennium Development Goals Act.

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