October 23, 2012

The final presidential debate: Global health was missing from the foreign policy discussion

Communications Officer

It’s not much of a surprise that Monday night’s presidential debate, which focused on foreign policy, was consumed by a discussion of defense spending, and security and trade policies regarding the Middle East, North Africa, and China. While not unexpected, it’s still disappointing that both Barack Obama (D) and Mitt Romney (R) were relatively silent on issues like global health, research, and international aid. We’ve written previously about how critical it is for the candidates to address these issues, given the impact of presidential policies on funding for global health research and other development programs.

While there have been some brief mentions during the debate season of the role of science and technology—both candidates have discussed how science and technology can help create domestic jobs and tackle issues like energy and climate change—it’s critical to also address the role of science in international health and development. Indeed, there’s been some reaction from the international development community regarding the lack of foreign aid and assistance in Monday night’s debate. Devex provides a summary of some clues offered up by both Romney and Obama regarding foreign aid and development in Pakistan, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. But as this word cloud from the US Global Leadership Coalition indicates, health, research, and science—among a host of other topics—were missing from the debate.

Perhaps Josh Barro from Bloomberg puts it most succinctly: “The biggest problem with this debate, as with the previous ones, is what wasn’t discussed. There was no discussion of Europe or sub-Saharan Africa and only a brief mention of Latin America by Romney (who, as Matt Yglesias notes, got his key factoid wrong). The candidates did not discuss immigration, the drug war, global health, climate change or the international financial system.” He adds that “apparently ‘foreign policy’ has come to mean ‘places in the Middle East and North Africa where we are or might be bombing people, plus some really stupid and demagogic discussion of trade with China.’”

With the election now less than two weeks away—and domestic issues such as jobs and the economy taking center stage—it seems increasingly unrealistic that either candidate will offer up much on global health, research, or other development topics soon. But no matter what the outcome is in two weeks, the next president must demonstrate more support for global health and foreign aid than the candidates displayed during Monday night’s debate.

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