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Sebelius at conference: Health is 'great global connector,' nations cannot ignore disease

Reported by: Associated Press
Reported: Monday, April 7, 2014 5:46 PM EDT

Health is the "great global connector" and ignoring disease in other nations will punish people everywhere as the world increasingly is connected by air travel and food transported across the globe, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday.

Speaking at the opening of the University of Colorado's Conference on World Affairs, Sebelius said nations not only have a practical and economic reason but also a humanitarian one to work together to innovate and share knowledge about advances in fighting disease, whether it's cancer or cholera.

"It asks us to open our hearts and challenges us to open our minds," she said of global health.

Sebelius, who became secretary in the midst of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, praised the work of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in helping prevent disease outbreaks from turning into pandemics in two countries recently — Uganda and Vietnam.

After cholera began spreading in northern Uganda, the CDC helped pre-position rapid diagnostic testing to help slow its spread, she said. In Vietnam, she said the CDC sent teams to help respond to an outbreak of Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome.

Despite the United States' efforts to improve health care for pregnant women in the developing world, she said more needed to be done since about 500,000 women still die every year from preventable birth-related illnesses.

While the United States has made great strides lowering its smoking rates, she said it still needs to help fight tobacco use in the rest of the world because of the country's role promoting smoking. The smoking rate in the United States is about half of what it was during when it was glamorized during the "Mad Men" era, but she said 5.6 million American children alive today are expected to die of smoking-related illness at the current rate.

In her only reference to the Affordable Care Act, Sebelius said its requirement that insurance plans include coverage for tobacco cessation is one preventative effort of the law that's been overlooked.


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