Priority Settings for 2014 – What is the Global Health Community up to?

By: Kristine Sorgenfri Hansen


Which issues make the agendas and who decides what gets done, said and prioritized? Do we know what is going on in the global health community or do we fail to be informed about ideas, issues and knowledge that don’t make it further than being a bullet-point on an agenda?

We are constantly reminded, here on the blog and in class, that we as Global Health students need to look under the radar to find information about the forgotten health issues, diseases without x-factor and solutions without media appeal. In the future it will be our jobs to help inform the public and the policymakers about these issues.

Through the search for more knowledge about global health we sometimes stumble upon surprising priorities and developments both in politics and in private choices. As an example, I have recently learned that in India only 47 percent of the 330 million households have toilet facilities while 63 percent of homes have phone connections. A strange way of prioritizing some would say. It is hard to prioritize on others behalf, but yet we do it all the time in the global health field. I’ll use this blog post to give you a bit of insight into some of the most notable priorities mentioned for 2014 – it looks like it’s going to be a very interesting year for global health…

Wealth creates Health Health creates Wealth

Looks like we’re about to rethink the trickle-down effect and what might be driving it… Prompted by the 20th anniversary of the 1993 World Development Report, a Lancet Commission revisited the case for investment in health and developed a new investment framework to achieve dramatic health gains by 2035. The commission’s report,Global health 2035: a world converging within a generation’, was published in The Lancet on December 3, 2013 and stresses that investing in health is paramount for sustainable development.

The report makes the case that:

  • The returns on investing in health are even greater than previously estimated
  • Within a generation—by 2035—the world could achieve a “grand convergence”, bringing preventable infectious, maternal and child deaths down to universally low levels
  • Taxes and subsidies are a powerful and underused lever for curbing non-communicable diseases and injuries
  • Progressive universalism, a pathway to universal health coverage (UHC) that targets the poor from the outset, is an efficient way to achieve health and financial protection.

As 2014 is finding its foothold and priorities are being made for it, I’m sitting here hoping that one of them will be focused on this mindset “Health creates Wealth”. If we can address the shortcomings of health care delivery through better investments in health, especially directed towards the lack of equal access to appropriate health care, then we will be able to move one step closer to achieving “Health as a human right”. The president of the World Bank, Jim Kim, also made a plea for more investment and for a ‘grand convergence’ in health as he agrees with the message of the Global Health 2035 report – collectively we have the financial and technical means to make it happen and to make it successful.

Global Health recommendations Global Health Governance1656127_10151981172304912_1937976006_n

Things are happening with the WHO! They are currently publishing papers concerning the second stage of their internal reform, and this has created a lot of talk in the global health media, where many opinions have been expressed in relation to the future of the organization: “There are concerns from academia and partners that WHO has been weakened with the expansion of global health initiatives, in what has been called ‘the golden era of global health’. Interviews have shown that although WHO is seen as a critical player, and that its intergovernmental nature is valued, it has not addressed with enough vigour the question of its role in global health governance. There is a feeling that WHO is ‘tip-toeing around the essence of the organisation’ (PWC)”.

Some are calling for a split-up dividing it into technical and political stewardship functions and some are arguing for more binding authority through a rewriting of the mandate that will increase its power to govern in global health. Common for all of them is that they call for alternative global governance mechanisms for health, as they see this as an urgent requirement in this 21st century globalized world. Hopefully we’ll get more knowledge and answers at The Lancet’s launch event of their global governance for health report “The political origins of health equity: prospects for change” taking place in Oslo on the 11th of February, and on the WHO’s 134th Executive Board Meeting which will take place at the end of January.

Regarding the WHO meeting, I’m sure that we’ll see a lot of interesting results and priorities coming out of this meeting. An impressive range of issues will be discussed and negotiated during the 6-day meeting and so far the provisional agenda is throwing a lot of good global health stuff up for discussion. For example, a follow-up on Health in All Policies, a long awaited report taking action against poor quality or fake medical products, and a discussion on health interventions and technology assessment in support of universal health coverage.

The latter is very much in line with the Global Health 2035 report, as it seeks to highlight the waste of resources resulting from inappropriate investments in health technologies that don’t meet priority needs. This is identified as a major cause of inefficiencies in health service delivery. Recommendations from the board are expected to guide and improve knowledge on these topics and many more. It is definitely worth keeping your eyes and ears open to them.

To close this blog post, I’ll say thank you for reading and I hope that you’ve set some good priorities for 2014. It is good to make resolutions to improve – just remember to let them spread and share them.

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