NOTE: This is a guest blog by Eric Williams of Physicians for Human Rights and Sam Hindels of AMREF USA.
NEW YORK, NY — On Sunday, the Global Health Council, AMREF USA, PHR and five other partner organizations hosted a lively discussion here on the eve of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit. The goal was to figure out how to reach the health-related MDGs after 10 years of lessons learned.
The event featured a moderated panel discussion with representatives Dr. Mubashar Sheikh, Global Health Workforce Alliance (GHWA); Dr. Seth Berkley, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI); Dr. Christopher Elias, PATH; and Dr. R.J. Simonds, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). Moderating the panel was Carol Jenkins, former journalist and chair-elect of the African Medical & Research Foundation (AMREF USA). The entire event is available for viewing online.
The discussion was set in the context of the global shortage of health workers and the fact that the health MDGs would not be achieved unless there are new, substantial and sustained investments in health workers.
Dr. Sheikh said that the health workforce crisis is situated in the broader discourse of the drive to achieve the health MDGs and wider development outcomes. He went on to mention that the challenges of global health governance, political will and policy coherence must be considered in interpreting the current global health workers situation.
The link was made between the successes of Preventing Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT) and increased health worker coverage. The success in taking care of children with HIV has been in part through service delivery by a skilled health workforce and the engagement of community health workers who are able to link life-saving services from the clinics to the community.
It was noted that innovation in relation to the MDGs is critically important if health targets are to be achieved. Technological innovations are “important solutions to important problems.” Dr. Elias (PATH) referred to clear evidence where new technologies are paying real-life dividends. In Mali, for example, an estimated 400,000 people are expected to receive a new meningococcal vaccine. This is part of a larger pilot program, also based in Burkina Faso and Niger where an estimated 1.2 million people are to receive the vaccine.
Elias noted that as thinking shifts from innovation to implementation, three points need to be considered: (1) the value and importance of public-private-partnerships, (2) greater country ownership and (3) sustainable funding that can meet both short-term and long-term needs.
Berkley (IAVI) raised the important issue that although there are new proven technologies, the real challenge remains — how do we slow the spread of HIV? He mentioned his concern that while many middle income countries are making advances in the area of research, most of these efforts are not being directed at developing new tools for various diseases in their own countries. Instead, they are developing for those diseases which are affecting people in “developed” nations.
By the end, the panelists suggested key outcomes they hoped would be achieved coming out of this MDG Summit:
1. Reignited political and financial commitment.
2. Commitments from developing countries to increase health spending and not merely shifting money that would have been spent on health into other areas to offset donor contributions.
3. More specific planning based on where we are now and not necessarily where we could or should be.
4. The challenge is not commitments alone, but bridging the gap between commitments and action.
In all, it was clear that at global and domestic levels, that there have been examples of great success in meeting health challenges. However, these examples are back-dropped by two key issues — the failure of governments to honor their commitments and the lack of sufficient accountability toward reaching the MDGs.