Md. health secretary goes on offensive in London 'Congress is going to brutalize our health programs,' he warns

November 04, 1995|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Maryland Health Secretary Martin P. Wasserman used an international health forum to launch a brief, off-the-cuff attack against the Republican-controlled Congress yesterday.

"Our new Congress is going to brutalize our health programs for the poor, the disabled," he told the Action In International Medicine Conference on Health and Poverty. "It's shameful. It's criminal. It shouldn't be happening."

Dr. Wasserman was speaking of congressional plans to scale back spending on health care programs that serve the poor and disabled, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans say reducing spending on such entitlements is necessary to balance the budget. They also say that the reductions are needed to keep Medicare fiscally solvent.

In an interview after the address, Dr. Wasserman declined to soften his stance against Congress.

"Someone has to say it," he said. "You get passionate enough to speak to the issue. It's incumbent to push the envelope."

Dr. Wasserman also told 80 health care professionals at the opening of the event: "Family planning is taboo in my country, politically unacceptable."

He also held up Cal Ripken Jr. as a model of good health.

But that took quite a bit of explaining, since most in the international audience had never seen a baseball game, let alone heard of the Baltimore Orioles' shortstop.

Still, Dr. Wasserman impressed many in the audience who come from countries where political dissent can lead to prison.

The speech marked a beginning in Maryland's three-year cooperative agreement with the World Health Organization, the event's co-sponsor.

Under the plan agreed to last summer, Maryland will send doctors and nurses to Third World countries to help deal with poverty and medical problems.

Experts from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, University of Maryland Medical Center and private industry also are involved in the program.

In return, WHO, a Geneva-based group, will advise Maryland on ways to solve problems in poor areas.

Baltimore will be a host city for a 1997 WHO conference on urban poverty.

As an added benefit, the link with WHO will enable the state to get a foot in the door to sell medical services overseas.

Among those Marylanders who attended yesterday's session were officials with Whiting-Turner Construction and NeighborCare Pharmacies.

"The potential for profit-making is great," said Michel Jancloes, director of WHO's division of intensified cooperation.

Conference participants said Maryland firms and individuals could benefit in many ways, from constructing overseas clinics to transferring secondhand medical equipment to impoverished areas to providing doctors for consultations via tele-conferencing.

During his speech, Dr. Wasserman didn't talk about profit.

He talked of the state's interest in combating poverty and raising the level of health care of its poorest citizens.

"We want to recognize that health and economic development go hand in hand," he said.

After the speech, he added: "I believe we can use the expertise we have on these issues in Maryland, and export that expertise to developing nations.

"We can enhance global health. We can learn from others. A healthy world is a safe world. And, this is the right thing to do," he said.

Participants in the conference discussed urban poverty issues in Ireland and infant mortality in Ghana.

They heard of an apparently successful program to regenerate neighborhoods in Cali, Colombia.

And they were told of three innovative health programs serving the poor of Baltimore: Project Enable, Project Healthy Start and the Kennedy Krieger Lead Poisoning Prevention and Treatment Center.

"Working with WHO could be a two-way collaboration for us," said Michael Weinrich, Montebello Hospital medical director.

"We have some lessons to learn. And we have some lessons to teach," he said.

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