Posted by: davidjolson | 09/24/2009

Global Health Not Evident on G20 Agenda

PITTSBURGH — The G20 Summit opened here today with the focus understandably on the global economic crisis and climate change but with almost no attention given to global health.

At the Washington G20 Summit in November 2008, leaders reaffirmed their comittment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including MDGs 4,5 and 6 on child survival, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. But six months later, at the London G20 Summit, global health was nowhere to be seen.

Global health made a bit of a comeback in July at the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, where it got at least some attention and even more attention during President Obama’s historic visit to Ghana immediately following the summit, when he and the first lady visited a USAID-funded maternal health project in a Ghanaian hospital.

We in the global health community had hoped that this momentum would continue with the G20 Summit now starting here in Pittsburgh but, so far, have been disappointed despite the advocacy of some high level advocates:

  • U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to the G20 leaders urging them to do more to meet the development and health needs of the world’s poorest countries: “In London, the G20 reaffirmed the Gleneagles commitments to increase ODA [overseas development assistance], ” the secretary-general said in his letter.” In Pittsburgh, the G20 should make clear how the Gleneagles commitments will be fulfilled by committing to country-by-country plans to increase ODA by 2010… I expect global leaders to confirm their participation in the 2010 MDG Summit at the UN, and lay the groundwork now for significant progress.”
  • In a commentary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist makes the case that sustainable recovery and long-term economic growth depend on improving the well-being of the world’s most vulnerable people , including by improving the health of children and mothers: Mr. Frist asserts that G8 leaders in L’Aquila failed to commit new resources to improving maternal, child and newborn health. “Now it’s time they [the G20 leaders] tell developing countries: If you produce a plan to reduce child deaths, we will not allow you to fail for lack of resources.”

So far, there is little evidence that the leaders will follow Mr. Frist’s suggestion. In a six-page letter to the other G20 sherpas on Sept. 3,  U.S. Sherpa Michael Froma shared the U.S. government’s view on the Pittsburgh summit and never once mentioned global health, even in the long section on “Strengthening Recovery in the World’s Poorest Countries.”

Still, those of us in global health are nothing if not idealistic, and as the summit begins, we still hold out hope that G20 leaders will not pass up this historic opportunity to do right by the poor children and women of the world.

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