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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Interfaith Approaches to Tackling Global Health Challenges: Combating Malaria

Riggs Library
Georgetown University
December 12, 2008

Thank you Ed, for that kind introduction…and thank you for your leadership in the fight against global poverty…

I’d also like to thank the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. It plays an important role convening experts in the areas of global health and stability. And its work—together with the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty—has made today possible.

And finally—to everyone gathered here today—welcome. It’s Georgetown’s pleasure to host this Leadership Consultation on the faith community’s efforts to combat malaria.

As a Catholic and Jesuit university, Georgetown is especially committed to interfaith collaboration in supporting global health. Our values and heritage compel us to act against the injustices caused by global poverty…and to try and help alleviate human suffering.

Our faith provides a moral imperative for our work—but it also does much more. We realize that the faith community—of which we’re a part—provides a very practical infrastructure to make significant strides in improving global health. For example, the World Health Organization estimates that between 30 and 70 percent of the entire health infrastructure in Africa—where many diseases, including malaria, are disproportionately ravaging societies—is currently owned by faith-based organizations. So interfaith collaboration in this field not only holds great promise—it is an absolute necessity.

Reflecting this belief, Georgetown has engaged in several interfaith initiatives geared toward improving global health. Some recent examples of our work include:

• A meeting convened on campus last December, which explored the faith community’s response to the challenges of HIV and AIDS. Ambassador Mark Dybul facilitated this discussion, and it has led to some promising efforts.

• The previous winter, we held a meeting of African faith leaders to examine ways to support Catholic networks engaged in health work in Africa.

• And a few years ago, we hosted a meeting of faith leaders to discuss PEPFAR, which yielded some very interesting and constructive dialogue around the program.

Some other examples of Georgetown’s work in global health include:

• The recent opening of our O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.  We opened this Institute last year to further deepen Georgetown’s engagement with health studies and their legal aspects.  Just last month, the O'Neill Institute—along with the Fogarty International Center—hosted an event on “The Role of Science in Advancing Global Health Diplomacy.” 

• We also recently hosted the US launch of the Health Impact Fund. Proposed by Dr. Thomas Pogge and Dr. Aidan Hollis, the fund would provide incentives for pharmaceutical companies to develop new medicines with the greatest global health impact...and offer them at prices affordable to those most in need.

• And finally, we are also engaged in work that is specifically targeting malaria. Dr. Paul Roepe—a Co-Director of the Center for Infectious Disease at Georgetown Medical School—is currently conducting exciting research on a malaria vaccine.

We are proud of all of this work; and today we take it a step further… a step closer to coordinated action and ultimate eradication. By bringing together leaders from different faith communities, we’re able to strengthen our response to not simply a disease, but to one of the single most pressing threats to global health and prosperity…A threat that, according to the World Health Organization, kills a child every 30 seconds. And nearly 40 percent of the world’s population – mostly those living in the world’s poorest countries – are at risk.

But while the magnitude of the crisis is staggering, there’s great hope for a significant and effective response—one that could result in considerable strides against this very treatable and very preventable disease. To that end, our collaboration today gives us an opportunity to combine our best efforts…to learn from one another…and to leverage the strengths of the many organizations committed to this fight. We possess the tools necessary to win this—and through the action plan we will begin today, we may hasten the day when we’ll be able to remove malaria from the headlines…and consign it to the history books.

For us at Georgetown, it is a privilege to be a part of this endeavor. So thank you again for joining us. Thank you for your dedication to the fight against malaria. And thank you for your commitment to an interfaith action plan. I look forward to our continued work together.



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