Category Archive for 'obama administration'

Federal funding for health is in jeopardy.

In the recent State of the Union address, President Obama announced a five-year freeze on domestic spending (aka non-security discretionary spending). On Jan. 25th, the House of Representatives approved a resolution to reduce non-security spending to 2008 levels.

We cannot balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable.

To avoid losing the progress that targeted spending has made in saving lives and improving health outcomes, the Senate should pass an omnibus bill that provides slight increases to FY10 levels for the majority of global health accounts. Last year’s efforts to pass an omnibus bill died in December when it became clear that 60 votes were not available to overcome a threatened Republican filibuster, the Washington Post reported. The federal budget is currently running on a Continuing Resolution that expires March 4, 2011. If the Senate fails to sustain or increase funding, this will have a direct impact on health outcomes in 2011 and the years to come.

An arbitrary freeze on spending is short-sighted and ineffective. The money saved will not adequately address the federal deficit. For example, foreign aid is a small fraction of the US budget. The International Affairs budget makes up about 1% of the overall federal budget, yet was able to fund the treatment of AIDS, TB, and malaria for millions of people. This investment is humanitarian, diplomatic, and economically sound, as it allows people to continue working and reduces the likelihood of transmission, and hence avoids increased health care costs.

A return to 2008 levels would dramatically reduce funding for the Global Health and Child Survival USAID Account (USAID-GHCS). January marked some milestones that offer a glimpse of the urgency of the need for continued investment in global health.  This month was the one year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti and the six month anniversary of the floods in Pakistan. Yesterday, the WHO Director General, Margaret Chan, commented that increased funding is necessary and asked,

“Will progress stall? Will powerful innovations, like the meningitis vaccine, like the vaccines for preventing diarrheal disease and pneumonia, like the new diagnostic test for tuberculosis, fall short of reaching their potential? Public health has been on a winning streak. But will we still have the resources to maintain, if not accelerate, these gains?

Domestic health is also at risk. Most insiders anticipate a healthcare reform repeal vote in the Senate before long.

Please call your Senator to share your opinion. You can use this script:

I am a voter in your state. I urge you to sustain or expand funding for global and domestic health because it’s a smart investment. When it comes to health, short-term funding cuts will have long-term repercussions. We need to continue the work to make health care affordable and accessible, make prevention a priority, and ensure that women have access to the reproductive and other health care services they need. As a member of Physicians for Human Rights, I will be keeping an eye on how you vote on this issue.

You can find your senator here.

Please report your call here.

You may have seen the news last week that the Obama Administration unveiled its long-awaited Sudan policy.

PHR welcomed the renewed sense of urgency in the policy but took a skeptical position on the Khartoum genocidal regime’s ability to fulfill the role of trusted partner envisioned in the new policy.

The new policy relies heavily on offering incentives to the Bashir regime to improve the situation on the ground. PHR urged the Administration and international community to build strong multilateral pressure on the regime and give a higher priority to the accountability for genocide and atrocities.

As an independent medical organization which has documented, from 2004 to 2009, the Sudan government’s mass killing and rape, pillage, forced displacement and destruction of all means of survival for hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians, PHR has repeatedly called for an end to impunity for this genocidal campaign.

An immediate goal for US policy which is not explicitly addressed in the new comprehensive approach is an end to the gender-based violence occurring inside and outside camps in Chad and Darfur and an end to impunity for the crime of rape.

In line with US Strategic Objective #1, “a definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses and genocide in Darfur,” UNAMID and all UN agencies must be tasked with specific reporting on the problem of gender-based violence and must be free to report without obstruction by local authorities. The current system, which discourages women from reporting rape and seeking justice, must be reformed and existing rape laws must be strengthened.

The US and UN must also immediately demand a commitment from the Government of Sudan to cease impeding support programs for victims of gender-based violence and remove any obstacles to gender-based violence programming in technical agreements between the government and humanitarian NGOs. It is essential that the US monitor the ongoing situation on the ground in Darfur and not allow Omar al-Bashir’s government the opportunity to further deceive the international community over human rights abuses. The Government of Sudan must accept an independent fact-finding mission to assess the human rights situation in Darfur, and the State Department should immediately encourage a high-level congressional delegation to perform this role.

As the US engages with the Government of Sudan and international partners to attempt to reinvigorate the peace process, US policy must remain committed to safely return refugees in Chad and displaced in Darfur to their homes and rebuilding of their villages and livelihoods. This goal should not be lost in efforts to achieve short-term forward progress in the peace process and immediate improvements in humanitarian assistance to the millions of displaced Darfuris.

The renewed commitment by the Obama Administration to end the conflict in Darfur and move forward with implementation of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement must not deter the US from supporting the UN Security Council and the ICC in pursuit of justice by enforcing the arrest warrant for President Bashir.

More soon: PHR briefing on rape and sexual violence in Sudan/Chad in DC this Wednesday (Oct 28)!

It’s a script for a great horror story — or nightmare. Being:

  1. mentally ill,
  2. indigent,
  3. jailed, perhaps indefinitely, and
  4. without a lawyer or guardian or anyone to speak for you?

And it’s happening right now in America.

Indigent mentally ill persons are placed in immigration detention and ordered deported from the United States every day. They have no right to a free lawyer nor to a court-appointed representative to speak on their behalf. Many have stories like Xiu Ping Jaing: an immigrant who fled human rights abuse in her home country only to be caught in a system dubbed by one expert the “American gulag.”

Other mentally ill people in immigration detention are not immigrants at all: they’re US citizens who, without help, can be detained for years or deported away from family members who were never informed of the action taken and are frantic to find their missing loved ones.

For many human rights problems, the solutions are complex. This isn’t one of them. In July, PHR joined human rights groups across the United States in asking Attorney General Eric Holder to take common-sense steps:

  1. appoint lawyers for mentally ill detainees who can’t afford them,
  2. set up a fair process to determine individuals’ competency to face deportation hearings, and
  3. appoint guardians ad litem for individuals found incompetent.
Note: There is a file embedded within this post, please visit this post to download the file.

In ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the US agreed that

all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person (Art. 10(1)).

The Obama Administration can, and must, act now to ensure that the mentally ill in our immigration jails are treated with the dignity they deserve.