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Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services


The Pan American Health Association Headquarters


Thursday, April 7, 2005

"Make Every Mother and Child Count"

Good morning-buenos dias. It's great to see so many of our global neighbors here-I'm delighted to have this opportunity to speak with you. My Department has long had a close connection with the Pan American Health Organization, and I look forward to continuing that association today as we work to make every mother and child in our countries count on this World Health Day.

I would like to acknowledge the nobleness of this event to make every mother and child count by telling you a story about my own mother´┐Ż

I know we're all committed to improving the lives of mothers and children and strengthening families. I hope we can all take this opportunity to learn from one another and see how we can work together and help each other in the future. I'd like to tell you a little about how my Department is working to improve the health of women and children and build a healthier U.S.

Healthy people depend on healthy families. And healthy families are sustained by fundamental virtues, including abstinence before marriage, strong marriages, the cognitive development of young children, and loving bonds between children and their fathers.

To help adolescents make healthy, responsible choices, we have established community-based abstinence education programs. And we recently launched a give parents the tools and information they need to talk with their children about relationships while encouraging abstinence.

We're working to help parents provide a stimulating environment for young children, who are one of our most vulnerable populations. Through our Head Start program, we're currently providing 900,000 children with the stimulation and encouragement they need.

All children deserve strong bonds with their fathers, and fathers with good models are more effective. So we have developed have a special initiative to support and strengthen the roles of fathers in families in the United States.

My Department's work doesn't stop at America's borders, though. I am committed to improving the health and well-being of people wherever I can, and to continuing the agenda of my predecessor, Tommy Thompson, to make health a priority in U.S. foreign policy. Health diplomacy makes good neighbors and extends America's spirit of compassion around the world. And since it costs you nothing to share the fruits of your experiences, we all grow a little richer-and a little healthier-when we help one another.

Today, for example, I am pleased to announce a new global project to fight asphyxiation among newborns, which is a major cause of infant death. Through this initiative, called First Breath, we hope to learn how to reduce significantly infant mortality. The initiative will teach birth attendants not in hospitals across Asia, Africa, and Latin America newborn resuscitation skills. Every child is irreplaceable, and the loss of every baby is a tragedy we should work to prevent. So I look forward to sharing with you what we learn through this initiative.

First Breath is just one of our efforts at improving health and saving lives around the world.

We're bringing hope and health to Afghan women through the renovation and refurbishing of the Rabia Balkhi Women's Hospital in Kabul. And Rabia Balkhi will be just the first in a series of maternal and child health teaching clinics across that country. We have also started a program to improve the training and skills of hospital-based physicians, nurses, and midwives through our training program at the Women's Hospital. Since we began this operation, we have seen dramatic improvements in the skills of the hospital staff.

We're working with USAID and the Ministry of Health and Population in Egypt to use health promotion and disease prevention to improve lives of Egyptians.

We're working to save lives in Asia and around the world by aggressively tracking and monitoring avian influenza.

President Bush has committed $15 billion over 5 years to fighting AIDS from Africa to Latin America. These funds will help us support treatment for two million HIV-infected people, prevent seven million new HIV infections and provide care for 10 million HIV-infected people and AIDS orphans.

We're on the brink of eradicating polio-a disease that has crippled so many children.

We're creating a culture of life at the United Nations, so that all children have the same basic opportunity to live and that the UN agencies promote stable families and a respect for human life and dignity.

I know that President Bush believes that to strengthen nations we have to strengthen and change hearts. Because over two million of my country's children cannot receive the parental guidance they need because of a parent in jail, we established a Mentoring Children of Prisoners program to help some of them by providing them with role models from their communities. And last Friday, I had the opportunity to meet with some children whose parents are in prison and the compassionate men and women who mentor them. One of the children there told us about how he wanted to study math and wanted to go to college. The whole room broke out into applause. When we strengthen hearts, we strengthen nations. So I think it's important to remember how the work we all do can affect so many people in such good ways.

Healthy people depend on healthy families, and on healthy friends. And promoting and encouraging good health can strengthen the bonds of friendship among all governments and all peoples.

Last revised: April 7, 2005


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