Forum on Global Health

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Those images of hollow-eyed children lying in their mother's arms featured in UNICEF and Save the Children ads? They're not so strictly third-world as most of us imagine. Or so believes Peter Ahern, Cleveland-based president of the Axios Foundation, an international aid organization working to advance health care in developing nations.

Peter Ahern: It was pretty striking two, three years ago when the global security council identified HIV AIDS as a global security issue.

Ahern points to AIDS as one of the most prominent examples of how a devastating disease can reach around the globe. And, he says, others threaten to in today's modern world - diseases like SARS and bird flu, which could rapidly become pandemics on a global scale.

Peter Ahern: Diseases that decimate countries destabilize countries. So in our search for a more peaceful world and a world in which we feel more secure, we need to address these issues.

And that's what Ahern and a group of local experts concerned about health both here and abroad hope to begin tonight. Their partner is the Washington D.C.-based Global Health Council, an international alliance of health professionals, NGO's and government agencies in more than a hundred countries working to promote global health. Spokesman Todd Lawrence says despite recent U.S. commitments to AIDS funding in Africa, foreign aid for children has stagnated.

Todd Lawrence: We want it to be more than just Washington D.C. talking about global health policy. We want it to be communities talking about global health and how they can make a difference. That's why we've come to Cleveland.

Lawrence says he wants Cleveland, with its two nationally-recognized healthcare institutions, to be the first U.S. city to create an on-going commitment to global health issues. Peter Ahern of Axios will head the effort. He plans to establish a local global health council that will continue the work of developing solutions to problems found not only in developing nations, but in our own backyard.

Peter Ahern: We should work in our own communities and send forth from that to teach others. But likewise there are models that are being developed overseas that would have application right here.

Dr. Holly Thacker shares Ahern's conviction that many global health issues have a local component, even in the comparatively wealthy U.S. Thacker is director of the Women's Health Center at the Cleveland Clinic and one of tonight's forum presenters.

Holly Thacker: Unfortunately, the United States in general has one of the higher rates of unintended pregnancies compared to western countries. And when that's the case, there's a higher rate of pre-term labor, which is again higher in Cleveland than in many other developed countries.

Thacker and the Clinic aren't sure yet what their role in the new Cleveland global health council will be. Peter Ahern says the group, once formed, will determine its own agenda in concert with the Global Health Council. But he and other health experts say they're committed to doing their part in making the world a safer, healthier place. Karen Schaefer, 90.3.

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