Report on Global Health Blocked by Bush Administration Appointee for Political Reasons, Washington Post Reports
The Washington Post on Sunday examined claims from current and former public health officials that a 2006 surgeon general's report on global health was withheld from the public by a Bush administration political appointee primarily because the report did not promote the administration's "policy accomplishments." Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who commissioned the report while serving in the position from 2002 to 2006, at a July 10 House committee hearing testified that the report was suppressed, according to the Post. Carmona told lawmakers that as he attempted to release the report, he was "called in and again admonished ... via a senior official," who said the report "will be a political document, or it will not be released."
William Steiger -- head HHS' Office of Global Health Affairs, who the Post reports blocked the report from being released -- did not comment directly on the issue. However, in a written statement released Friday by an HHS spokesperson, he said that he disagrees with Carmona's statements regarding the report. "A document meant to educate the American public about health as a global challenge and urge them to action should at least let Americans know what their generosity is already doing in helping to solve those challenges," Steiger said in the statement. He added that "political considerations" did not delay the report, but "sloppy work, poor analysis and lack of scientific rigor did."
The 65-page report, titled "Call to Action on Global Health," reviewed efforts to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria; charted trends in infectious and chronic disease; called for the careful monitoring of public health to safeguard against bioterrorism; and explained the importance of proper nutrition, childhood immunizations, and clean air and water, among other topics. It also examined the link between poverty and poor health, called on the government to make combating disease a key component of U.S. foreign policy and urged businesses to help improve health conditions in countries where they operate.
The report -- compiled by government, as well as private public health experts from NIH, the Catholic Medical Mission Board and several universities -- said that "problems in remote parts of the globe can no longer be ignored. Diseases that Americans once read about as affecting people in regions . . . most of us would never visit are now capable of reaching us directly." It added that the "hunger, disease and death resulting from poor food and nutrition create social and political instability . . . and that instability may spread to other nations as people migrate to survive."
The Post reports that following a "long struggle that pitted top scientific and medical experts inside and outside the government against Steiger and his political bosses," Carmona did not make the requested changes to the report, according to officials. "I fought for my last year to try to get it out and couldn't get it past the initial vetting," Carmona said during his testimony, adding, "I refused to release it (with the requested changes) ... because it would tarnish the office of the surgeon general when our colleagues saw us taking a political stand" (Lee/Kaufman, Washington Post, 7/29).