Remarks by President John J. DeGioia
"Compassion in Action": White House Roundtable on Malaria
"Toward a New Frontier in Global Health Policy"
The White House
February 15, 2007
Thank you very much, Jay, for your introduction, and for inviting me to join you today. I am deeply grateful to you and to President and Mrs. Bush for your strong leadership, and it is an honor to be with you for this important program.
Compassion in Action is wonderful way of capturing a core set of values at the heart of the American project, and it is one that has a deep resonance with the animating spirit of the community that is Georgetown.
As the nation's oldest Catholic and Jesuit University, Georgetown aims toward the formation of young leaders who will be what former Superior General of the Society of Jesus Pedro Arrupe called -- women and men for others. Fr. Jerome Nadal, one of the original members of the Society of Jesus, had another wonderful phrase to describe the Jesuit mission -- to be and to foster -- contemplatives in action. So we at Georgetown feel a great affinity for the work being undertaken here today.
As the phenomenon of globalization draws the world closer together, a spotlight also focuses us on the great challenges of our time: hunger, poverty, disease, conflict. The need has never been greater for men and women dedicated to serving others, leading lives and careers of Compassion in Action.
The challenges we face are not new, though they may be on a greater scale than ever experienced before. A product of highly complex social and political factors, these challenges require urgent attention and innovative solutions from the world community.
I believe in this context, we are facing a new frontier in global health: We must build global networks and partnerships across political, cultural and national lines and leverage disparate ideas and talents to find solutions for these global challenges -- and first among these challenges are the inequality and poverty that enables diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS to disproportionately afflict and persist among the world's poor and most vulnerable.
More than 400 years ago Fr. Nadal captured the essence of this ideal of interdependence and shared obligation in a simple but profound statement. He said, The world is our house.
"The world is our house means that we are all in this together. It means that every one of us is responsible for the health and dignity of our brothers and sisters around the world. How we treat one another, no matter our differences, either shores up or undermines the foundation of our shared house. Indeed, our own dignity, our own humanity, is diminished when we do not affirmatively care for all in our house. 'The world is our house' means that when someone is afflicted, we see their suffering, and by seeing it, we suffer with them.
And, we respond.
One of the most pressing crises in the global community today, one that calls us all to respond, is the threat of malaria in the developing world. Malaria afflicts up to 500 million individuals each year. More than a million of our sisters and brothers die annually, most of them children under the age of 5, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
We lose 1 million lives every year to a treatable disease.
Ultimately malaria, like so many global health issues, is a disease of poverty. How else can we explain the devastation of a disease than can be prevented and treated, where bed nets, insecticides, basic drugs and a human touch are often all that's needed to save a human life?
If ever there was a time for Compassion in Action -- this is it.
Over the past few years, we have seen significant progress on this front, including the President's Malaria Initiative, which aims to invest $1.2 billion over five years to reduce malaria-related deaths in 15 African countries by 50 percent.
And to accomplish this important goal, all of us must join in partnership and collaboration.
At Georgetown, we seek to identify new and innovative ways by which the unique and considerable resources of an American research university, grounded in faith and guided by the ideal of Compassion in Action, can be brought to bear in combating global health threats.
Georgetown is engaging experts and practitioners in a variety of fields to explore new strategies to combat pressing health challenges. For example, as part of our ongoing work in helping to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Georgetown has brought together faculty working on various dimensions of the AIDS crisis with leaders from developing countries, deeply engaged in the field to develop new programs to support faith-based organizations responding to AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. These partnerships began to take shape in 2003, when we had the opportunity to convene a meeting of faith-based organizations to explore how they could help to deploy most effectively the landmark $15 billion in resources that President Bush appropriated through the Presidents' Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
At our core, Georgetown is dedicated to providing comprehensive educational opportunities in the classroom and in the world to students who will someday lead these global health efforts.
Members of our faculty, some of whom are here today, are engaged in crucial research to develop new drugs and treatments for malaria, and in efforts to develop new interventions that address dimensions of our urgent global health challenges.
Yet it is evident that our individual efforts, even cumulatively, will ultimately be unsuccessful if we operate in isolation and focus only on treating diseases one by one. Rather, we must envision together a new and comprehensive strategy -- one that targets the global inequality and poverty that allow these diseases to afflict the world's poor in scandalously disproportionate ways.
In partnership with a host of stakeholders across disciplines and throughout the nation and around the world, we have been engaged at Georgetown in an exploration to identify what such a holistic and collective global health strategy might look like.
At this point, we do know this: building partnerships and drawing from the unique resources and talents of stakeholders across the social spectrum is the new frontier of global health.
We can see that idea and commitment reflected here today -- the resources of the White House and the United States government, the ingenuity of the private sector, the compassion and energy of NGO's, the wisdom and courage of faith-based organizations, the intellectual resources of American colleges and universities, and the sheer determination of caring individuals from all over the world. The experience and talent in this room, when harnessed in active partnership and collaboration, promises to contribute new ideas and new strategies to address these ongoing health challenges.
Imagine if leaders outside this room and all across the world -- government officials, medical experts, teachers, volunteers, church and faith-based groups -- joined in that partnership and collaboration -- a coalition of compassion that spanned the globe. Governments providing leadership and funding on important projects, working with NGO's and faith-based groups that have resources in the field, combined with research institutions at the cutting edge of medical discovery -- truly, lives -- even communities -- can be saved.
Partnership, collaboration, and cooperation must form the foundation of any comprehensive global health strategy that aims both to prevent and treat disease, and combat the inequality and poverty that enables these diseases to persist.
Faith-based partners, with their focus on care for the whole person, are uniquely well suited to this sort of exploration. That is why the work of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is so vitally important.
Compassion in Action. I am deeply grateful for the leadership of President and Mrs. Bush, and of Jay Hein for his work as Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Georgetown has been privileged to work with this administration on a range of issues over the years, from the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development to, most recently, UNESCO's efforts to promote universal literacy and the US-Afghan Women's Council initiative.
Georgetown is honored to join in this pursuit of a new global health frontier, and we share your vision of a world made better by Compassion in Action, in which preventable and treatable diseases are, in fact, prevented and treated. A global community characterized by love for one another. A world in which the collective strength of a community of nations seeks to eradicate inequality and poverty, to overcome needless injustice, indifference and suffering. Together, we can make this a reality.