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The US should double its expenditure on global health as a mainstay of its foreign policy, leading US medical specialists said this week (15 December).

A team co-led by one of president-elect Barack Obama's scientific advisers also said that funds should be directed towards basic research into the diseases of poor countries; health systems research to improve access to and delivery of interventions and research into controlling the many non-communicable diseases found in impoverished settings.

The report, issued by the influential US National Institute of Medicine, argued that the US government "should act in the global interest, recognising that long-term diplomatic, economic, and security benefits for the United States will follow".

Leading the committee were Nobel prize-winner Harold Varmus — a former head of the National Institutes of Health as well as an adviser on science to Obama and Thomas Pickering, under secretary of state for political affairs.

The committee called for the United States' annual global health funding to be doubled from US$7.5 billion in 2008 to US$15 billion by the end of Obama's first term in 2012.

It also noted that the United States conducts over half the world's health research but only eight per cent of this investment, public or private, goes towards global health.

Much of this has funded HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria under schemes such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

This should continue, says the report, but other areas should be added to the portfolio.

"These areas … have been underfunded relative to their importance globally, and the committee determined that the United States can make a substantial contribution in moving forward the research agenda in these critical areas," said Maria Freire, a committee member and president of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, which funds biomedical research.

The report also calls for more public-private partnerships to be pursued, more collaborations between developed and developing country researchers, and better access to modern digital technologies to enhance and record research in developing countries.

"Opportunities to engage with the public and private sectors in low- and middle-income countries continue to increase and the US government should be open to exploring novel ways to achieving success via these partnerships," said Freire.

To carry out such plans and ensure a central place for global health in US foreign policy, the report recommends the creation of an Interagency Committee on Global Health. Its chair would advise the White House on global health issues.