Clinton tightens grip on Global Health Initiative

A clinic in Angola receives supplies of more effective anti-malarial medication from the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID will remain one of the co-heads of the Global Health Initiative's collaborative leadership structure. Photo by: Alison Bird / USAID

It’s a contentious move meant to embed one of the Obama administration’s signature development initiatives more firmly in U.S. foreign affairs: The Global Health Initiative’s office is set to be replaced by a new Office of Global Health Diplomacy within the Department of State.

The decision was announced this week in a joint statement by GHI Executive Director Lois Quam, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby and Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

USAID, the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator and CDC will remain co-heads of GHI’s collaborative leadership structure. While GHI focused on interagency coordination, GHD’s mandate will be to “champion the priorities and policies of GHI in the diplomatic arena.”

“By shifting from what was too often an internal focus to a strong external focus, we feel this diplomacy focus is important in order to bring more resources to achieve GHI targets,” Quam told the Global Post. “Diplomacy allows us to work with partner countries and donor countries in a stronger way. I’m very pleased about this.”

With this decision, the Obama administration appears to renege on its pledge under the State Department’s Quadrennial Review of Diplomacy and Development to put USAID in charge of GHI by September 2012 if certain benchmarks are met. In their statement, the U.S. global health leaders note that “a collective recommendation to close the QDDR benchmark process” had been made.

The structure and position of GHI within the U.S. government has been the topic of much debate among global health advocates, many of whom question whether the State Department, now headed by Hillary Clinton, is the right home for it. In an op-ed published by the Center for Global Development last October, for instance, Nandini Oomman and Rachel Silverman argued there are two reasons placing GHI under the State Department “doesn’t make sense”: Global health is not among the department’s strong points, and the move is a potential “public relations nightmare” that could also derail the administration’s efforts to transform USAID into a premier development agency.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.