Dr. Michael Merson has been a man on the move in the past few years. After serving as dean of public health at Yale University for a decade, he became the founding director of the Duke Global Health Institute in 2006.
Now, Merson has yet another notch to add to his belt. He was tapped to join the Commission on Smart Global Health Policy in April and is now working with the high-level bipartisan group to advise the government on global health policy.
The commission was launched by the D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank, with the purpose of bringing together experts from both the government and the private sector to discuss global health issues for the upcoming year. It consists of 26 members, including former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, Exxon Mobil President and Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson and Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin, as well as several members of Congress.
The major goal of the commission is to determine the best use for the $63 billion that the Obama administration has allocated to combat global diseases, Merson said. Members are currently working on a report that must be presented to the State Department by the end of the year, which will focus on how the aid will be distributed.
“We are looking for a wider health agenda that tries to strengthen global health systems,” Merson said.
The commission will also be evaluating the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a program that was created by former President George W. Bush in 2003 and reauthorized in 2008 with the purpose of treating and preventing HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 15 high-risk countries, Merson said.
“We want to build on the great work that has been done on HIV/AIDS and malaria over the last two administrations and develop an approach that is more comprehensive with measurable impacts,” said Helena Gayle, co-chair of the commission and chief executive officer of CARE USA.
The commission will also address the question of including other initiatives—such as maternal health programs and long-term methods to prevent flu pandemics—in U.S. global health efforts, Gayle said. She noted, however, that the commission realizes that there will be problems with funding these programs as a result of the current economic environment.
“However, improving global health is in all of our best interests in a much more globalized world, and we will all benefit from having more equity in health status throughout the world,” Gayle said.
In August, the commission traveled to Kenya to look at how U.S. funds were aiding the treatment of HIV/AIDS, Merson said.
The group visited Nyanza Province, where much of the population lives on less than $1 a day, to determine what actions must be taken to improve the region’s health clinics.
“We are striving to highlight the most pressing global health issues that the administration will face, along with what we see as the most effective ways of addressing these issues and tackling some of the world’s most persistent health crises,” said Debora Spar, a member of the commission and president of Barnard College.
Locally, the commission is holding public consultations around the country to get people involved in global health issues. Members recently held a health session in Research Triangle Park Sept. 21 where they discussed the importance of sustaining global health to increase the productivity of the economy and lessen the threat of the H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as swine flu.
Spar added that the commission will be facing many challenges in determining the top priorities to place on the agenda for global health care.
“We also face the reality that the U.S. government is just one player—albeit a major player—in this realm, and thus any real solutions will demand cooperation and joint effort across a wide and varied range of actors,” she said.
Merson, for his part, said his experience on the commission has been valuable.
“Being a member of the commission has been very interesting,” he said. “ I have had the opportunity to participate in a high level panel with people who have a significant amount of experience working with government.”
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