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Health report hobbled by politics, officials allege

WASHINGTON -- A surgeon general's report in 2006 that called on Americans to help tackle global health problems has been kept from the public by a Bush political appointee without any background in medicine or public health, chiefly because the report did not promote the administration's policy accomplishments, according to current and former public health officials.

The report described the link between poverty and poor health, urged the US government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of its foreign policy, and called on corporations to help improve health conditions in the countries where they operate. A copy of the report was obtained by The Washington Post.

Three people directly involved in its preparation said its publication was blocked by William R. Steiger, a specialist in education and a scholar of Latin American history whose family has long ties to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Since 2001, Steiger has run the Office of Global Health Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Richard H. Carmona, who commissioned the "Call to Action on Global Health" while serving as surgeon general from 2002 to 2006, recently cited its suppression as an example of the Bush administration's frequent efforts during his tenure to give scientific documents a political twist.

Carmona told lawmakers that, as he fought to release the document, he was "called in and again admonished . . . via a senior official who said, 'You don't get it.' " He said a senior official told him that "this will be a political document, or it will not be released."

After a long struggle that pitted top scientific and medical specialists inside and outside the government against Steiger and his political bosses, Carmona refused to make the requested changes, according to the officials.

Carmona engaged in similar fights over other public health reports. A few days before the end of his term as the nation's senior medical officer, he was abruptly told he would not be reappointed.

Steiger did not return a phone call seeking his comment. But he said in a written statement released by an HHS spokesman Friday that the report contained information that was "often inaccurate or out-of-date and it lacked analysis and focus."

Steiger said that "political considerations" did not delay the report; "sloppy work, poor analysis, and lack of scientific rigor did." An HHS spokeswoman said the report is still "under development."

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