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Obama, Hope, and Health for All

December 8, 2008

Barack Obama’s election to the presidency of the United States brings with it the hope of change in many areas, not least in global health.  Elected by voters who in part were inspired by a grassroots organizing effort unprecedented in this country’s presidential races, Obama’s victory bears out what we already know and have been saying in our publications for over 30 years: Hesperian’s partners worldwide find their best and most lasting solutions come from organizing their communities to address the causes of poor health.

Like Hesperian and our allies in the People’s Health Movement, Obama’s analysis of global health includes not only access to medical treatment but also access to adequate food, sanitation, clean water and education.  Obama has said that the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, aimed at eradicating poverty, will frame US foreign policy in his new administration.  Obama appears to recognize the importance of the primary health care approach in crafting health solutions. In the US, where he has committed to implementing universal health coverage, Obama recently co-sponsored legislation to provide primary health care to the 56 million Americans without access to adequate care by tripling the number of community health centers.

Obama’s stated positions on international health include greatly increased funding to address the crises in HIV and AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and maternal and child health. As someone whose life experience includes connections to Indonesia, Kenya, and Hawaii, who was raised by a single mother and worked as community organizer, Obama may well appreciate the grassroots international efforts to achieve Health for All as no US president has done before.

But Obama takes office at a time of growing economic fragility, both in the US and around the world.  In order to maintain the priorities that moved so many people to support his candidacy in a landscape of greatly reduced public funds, Obama and his administration will need to hear once again, and repeatedly, from a grassroots movement as dedicated as the one that swept him into office. Hesperian will continue to do what we can to help build and sustain that movement. We hope you will join us.