Together today for a healthy tomorrow: the G20 for global health

An expert conference marks the starting point for Germany's G20 presidency

G20 expert conference on global health crises

"Taking Action against health threats - is the world better prepared?" Under this motto over 100 representatives of the G20, civil society, private sector and academia gathered in Berlin on 7/8 December 2016. The Federal Ministry of Health hosted this event, supported by GIZ and the Robert Koch Institute.

The WHO Constitution characterizes health as ‘fundamental to the attainment of peace and security‘ and ‘dependent upon the fullest co-operation of individuals and States‘. Whilst health is essential for economic growth and development, health crises such as the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa can cause or aggravate social and economic instability in affected countries and entire regions. The G20 have recognized the importance of public health for global economic stability and prosperity. A joint international approach to the mitigation of health risks is therefore one of their priorities.

A collaborative process to address G20 health priorities

The expert conference in Berlin initiated the collaborative process through which the G20 will address the most urgent global health issues during the German presidency. Delegates exchanged on the lessons learned they drew from recent outbreaks and emergency responses to them and discussed how these should inform global health crises management in the future. They called for predictable long-term funding and for the strengthening of WHO’s role in health emergencies.

Peter Salama, Executive Director WHO Health Emergency Programme, pointed out that ‘the system is as good as its weakest link.’ Incentives for countries’ compliance with the IHR should therefore be considered as one way forward.

The importance of countries’ compliance with the International Health Regulations (IHR) was also highlighted, along with the need to build core capacities in-country and to strengthen health systems. Delegates agreed that compliance with the IHR could present a win-win situation for all and suggested that universal health coverage was the most effective way to prevent future outbreaks.

Florian Westphal, General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières Germany

Flo­rian West­phal, Gen­eral Di­rec­tor of Médecins Sans Frontières Ger­many, un­der­lined that ‘there is no di­chotomy be­tween re­sponse and pre­pared­ness.’ He also called upon WHO to con­tinue to act as in­de­pen­dent global ref­er­ence or­ga­ni­za­tion which can de­clare emer­gen­cies in­de­pen­dently from po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence.

The Federal Ministry for Health gave an overview of the health crisis simulation exercise which is planned for the first G20 Health Ministers’ Meeting in May 2017. All participants used the meeting to discuss key topics related to global health crisis management and health system strengthening in the light of G20 priorities.

What next?

A new G20 Health Working Group, consisting of health experts from the G20 countries, will meet in February/March 2017. It will prepare the G20 Health Ministers’ Meeting in Berlin in May 2017 and the resulting G20 Health Ministers’ Declaration.

At this meeting health ministers will participate in the simulation of a global health crisis. The aim of the exercise is to raise their awareness for the International Health Regulations and the processes, roles and responsibilities they define for the management of such crises. The simulation will also serve as a test for the operability of revised coordination mechanisms between countries and within the World Health Organization.

The results generated by this exercise will be fed into the discussions of the G20 Summit of heads of state and government, which is scheduled to happen in Hamburg in July 2017.

Michaela Wilczek
December 2016

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