How Hillary Clinton Made Women’s Health A Central Tenet Of U.S. Foreign Policy

On Tuesday, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) was confirmed as the next Secretary of State by the U.S. Senate. As he steps into his new role, the outgoing Secretary Hillary Clinton will leave behind her legacy — particularly when it comes to the emphasis she placed on women’s health care around the world. Clinton made access to quality women’s health care and the development of stronger international health systems a core part of her approach to diplomacy and worldwide development.

Clinton’s efforts are best embodied by the Global Health Initiative (GHI), a little-discussed yet crucial $63 billion U.S. program rolled out in 2010 that aims to “help partner countries through integrated health systems with a renewed focus on maternal and infant health.” Over the last two years, the GHI has assisted poor nations across the globe by helping them create comprehensive plans for reproductive health services, hospitals that lower the rate of infant and maternal mortality, cleaner medical facilities, and reducing HIV transmission rates.

At the Oslo summit, Clinton listed the ways in which the U.S. State Department — under her leadership — had made global women’s health development a priority through programs like USAID and the GHI:

Through our development agency USAID, we are supporting more skilled midwives and cell phone technology to spread health information. We’re involved in the International Alliance for Reproductive, Maternal, and Newborn Health, a five-year effort to improve donor coordination. We are partnering with Norway and others to support innovative interventions that improve outcomes for pregnant women and newborns. And we are working to ensure access to family planning so that women can choose the spacing and size of their families. Reproductive health services can and do save women’s lives, strengthen their overall health, and improve families’ and communities’ well-being.

And of course, women’s health means more than just maternal health and therefore we must look to improve women’s health more generally, because it is an unfortunate reality that women often face great health disparities. And improving women’s health has dividends for entire societies, from driving down child mortality rates to sparking economic growth. […]

So we are trying to integrate our programs. And under our Global Health Initiative, each of our country teams now assess how they fit within a comprehensive vision and program, based upon a health plan established by the country where we are operating. And we have worked with partners to develop these health plans in more than 40 countries.

Usually, programs that embrace tenets similar to the GHI — such as PEPFAR and USAID — tend to focus on increasing funding, and they have proven to be quite effective. What makes the GHI special is that it implements an actual organized system that communicates across the globe in order to more accurately assess which policies work and which don’t.

Time will tell just how effective the GHI will be in improving women’s health care around the world. But ambitious efforts like it have been a hallmark of Clinton’s four years in office, during which she has also overseen President Obama’s reversal of the “global gag rule” that prevents US-funded international clinics from even discussing abortion with patients. As Kerry steps into her former role, he will have a solid foundation for improving women’s health care all around the world, and a substantial legacy to live up to.