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 You are in: Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance > Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance: Releases > Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance: Remarks (2006)

Literacy and Health

Ambassador Randall L. Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and USAID Administrator
Opening remarks at Literacy for Health Panel Discussion at the White House Conference on Global Literacy
New York City
September 18, 2006

My name is Randall Tobias and I am the director of U. S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. I want to thank Mrs. Laura Bush for her leadership and dedication for international development in education and health. I welcome the opportunity to be here with you today and I am especially pleased to be a part of this important and timely panel on literacy and health.

  • Prior to assuming my current position, I served for three years as the Global Aids Coordinator for PEPFAR, the Presidentís Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The work we continue to support under PEPFAR is often described as an effort to turn the despair of suffering and death to hope for good health and life. The same message can be offered in the campaign for literacy because we know the ability to read and write not only improves the lives of individuals but can also help save lives.
  • The HIV/AIDS pandemic is showing us just how important education is in the face of such a crisis. In fact, we know that women who can read and write are far more likely to know how to avoid HIV/AIDS than women who donít have basic literacy skills.
  • We also know through studies that women who participate in literacy programs gain critical and essential knowledge of good health and family care practices, and they are better able to use that information. When there are medical emergencies, they also are more likely to seek treatment for themselves and for their children.
  • Literacy enables individuals, families and communities to gain access to basic health services. Adults who have learned to read and write can follow important medical instructions; they know to avoid hazardous chemicals and situations when posted on warning signs. They also are capable of learning about basic sanitation practices that help prevent the spread of diseases.
  • Literacy provides the foundation for every facet of our lives. It makes continued learning possible and enables individuals to contribute to their own social and economic well-being and to that of their communities.


Released on October 25, 2006

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