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Michael Roston Headshot

Live From The Clinton Global Initiative: Physician, Heal Thyself?

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Rev. Jesse Jackson dropped by the press pit, which is about the most exciting thing that's actually happened in this room all day long.

A TV reporter tried asking Jackson if OJ Simpson could get a fair trial. He answered that he was 'disgusted' by the question.

"The crisis in the Jena criminal justice system, the crisis in health care, the crisis in the growing war in Iraq...to focus that much attention on a guy I think is a diversion," he said.

The TV reporter went on to say she agreed, but I bet that part will get edited out if the clip makes it to air tonight.

I went on to ask Rev. Jackson if he believed there were parallels between the discussion about child and maternal health care abroad and in the United States. He said that the problems discussed here today could be seen in America, too.

"Among the poor, infant mortality rates are higher, and life expectancy is shorter," he answered. "In our own country, we ought to take leadership in a comprehensive health care system. Right now, fewer and fewer have more and more, and more and more have less and less, and that's not good for our country. This north-south divide in the world is also prevalent in our country."

I was prompted to ask this question after seeing a panel on 'Strategies to Improve Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health.' For this discussion, the stage was weighed down by some major personages: Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway; Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization; Dr. Helene Gayle, President and CEO of the humanitarian relief group CARE; and, Dr. Abhay Bang of the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health.

These four were led through discussion by Dr. Bill Frist, the former Republican Senator of Tennessee who served as Majority Leader from 2003 until he retired from Congress in 2007.

Frist went to pains in particular to salute Stoltenberg. The Prime Minister of Norway had announced at lunchtime today that his government would direct $1 billion to improving child and maternal health care.

Prime Minister Stoltenberg emphasized in the talk that the question of keeping children and their mothers healthy was not a partisan political issue in his country. Pointing to a Norwegian opposition parliamentarian who was in attendance, he remarked that, "If I lose the election, he will take over."

Frist added, "Your leadership is something to emulate."

So, watching this discussion of caring for the health of children and their mothers in the developing world, what does Dr. Frist, now working as a professor at Princeton University, have to say about the exact same debate here in America?

Well, not much it would seem.

Members of Congress and President George W. Bush are duking it out this week over funding for SCHIP, or state children's health insurance programs. While the issue might be a nonpartisan question in Norway, in America the matter is highly polarized. Last night, 265 Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to reauthorize the program. The White House has explicitly threatened to veto the bill, arguing that the it will force children into government health care that currently rely on private insurance.

Dr. Frist has stayed silent on this conflict. It's a noticeable silence given how active he remains on global public health issues concerning children.

For instance, Frist is participating in a 5-year, $75 million commitment called 'Survive to Five' with the humanitarian group Save the Children. And he also has voted to expand funding for SCHIP in the past. As a Senator, Frist reached across the aisle to provide $100 million for innovative children's health care projects.

I'm still hoping to track down Frist, but efforts to reach out to him and his staff have so far proven unsuccessful. And I'll pose the question here: does the good doctor think that the Norwegian Prime Minister's example is one President Bush should follow when it comes to health care for American children and their mothers?