The Global Action Plan at the World Health Summit

Marking a historic commitment to unite for health

Ilona Kickbusch facilitating

On 16 October 2018 a ministerial panel at the World Health Summit focused on the Global Action Plan for healthy lives and wellbeing for all. Ilona Kickbusch, Director of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and Co-Chair of UHC2030, facilitated a discussion between Dr Tedros, Director General of WHO, and representatives of African and European ministries of health and the BMZ. Kickbusch reminded participants that the Global Action Plan represents a historic commitment to unite for health: ‘In these times of fragmentation, we need to come together and create a new movement of global solidarity. What better topic is there to unite us than health? Health makes a difference for so many other SDGs – it is pivotal and at the center of the 2030 Agenda.’

Babette Stier, BMG

The session began with statements from two of the three governments whose request to Dr Tedros led to the development of an action plan: Germany and Ghana. Babette Stier, Deputy Director General for European and International Health Policy at Germany’s BMG, emphasised the central role that WHO will need to play to make the Global Action Plan a success. ‘WHO is the only international organisation with universal political legitimacy in global health,’ she explained. This is why Germany, Ghana and Norway took the initiative to ask Dr Tedros in partnership with other stakeholders to draw up an action plan for healthy lives and well-being for all. ‘By now we can see that the joint development itself has strengthened and will further foster cooperation among international health organisations. This is a great achievement.’

Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, Ghana’s Minister of Health, spoke of the need for cross-sectoral partnerships to attain SDG 3. ‘Although only 13 of 169 SDG goals and targets are health-related, other SDG areas, such as education, gender equality, agriculture and human rights, strongly influence the attainment of the health goals. This calls for greater collaboration and an overall policy shift from verticalisation to integration. To achieve SDG3 we need urgency, we need purpose and, above all, we need leadership.’

Dr Tedros reflects on the meaning of SDG 3

Next, Kickbusch turned to Dr Tedros, thanking him for taking part in the session despite his very full schedule and the fact that he had just returned from Sudan. She invited him to share how he had received the three countries’ request, how he had worked with other organisations to address it, and what the outcome was.

Dr Tedros said that he was glad she mentioned his trip to Sudan, as he would like to share something that happened to him there. ‘At a cardiac centre I met this 13-year old boy. He had first been diagnosed with malaria, then with sickle cell anaemia and finally with heart disease. Without treatment he would have died. But he was operated on at this cardiac centre – a public-private partnership between an Italian NGO and the government – and it was effective. When I looked at him he was smiling back at me.’

As Dr Tedros paused to collect himself, you could hear a pin drop in the packed auditorium. ‘We have everything. This boy has nothing,’ he continued, ‘But he had this smile. So for me, this boy is SDG 3: Helping those who need support. Leaving no one behind.’

According to Dr Tedros, the first phase of the preparation of the Action Plan was concluded successfully, but there are challenges ahead. ‘Global coordination is good, but we also need coordination at the country level: unity amongst partners to support countries according to their priorities.’ He called upon every organisation, including WHO, to reassess if it was ready to stop thinking in silos and prepared to align, accelerate and account. ‘The letter I received asks for more than a new strategy. It demands a change in mindset.’

BMZ commits to putting health and people first

Following an input from France’s Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, the representative of BMZ, Parliamentary State Secretary Norbert Barthle, echoed Dr Tedros’ humble and reflective tone in relation to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. ‘We all need to re-examine our briefs and reflect critically on our work’, he said, ‘and this is what my ministry is currently doing. If we look back on the past three years we must recognise that we are not on course. We need to step up our efforts.’

Norbert Barthle, BMZ

He explained that the ministry has developed a scenario for the current legislative term to improve sustainable development. This is based on three principles: ownership by partners, expansion of partners’ domestic financial revenues for sustainable financing, and a rights-based approach for the most vulnerable. Barthle reported back from the BMZ’s consultations with civil society representatives the preceding week and their request for a strong push for acceleration. He lauded World Bank President Jim Kim’s human capital perspective, which regards the smartest investments as those being made in good health services and education. In this same spirit, said Barthle, BMZ is committed to putting health and people first.

Where do we go from here?

Following statements in support of the Global Action Plan by the Ministers of Health of Ecuador and Uganda, Kickbusch asked the speakers: ‘What next?’

Anna Babette Stier, BMG, pointed out that German support to the WHO will be stepped up by an additional 115 million Euros for the next four years and made it clear that Germany would advocate for the Action Plan at the G7 and as a member of the WHO Advisory Board.

Norbert Barthle, BMZ, said that his ministry would work to get as many UN members states as possible on board to support the Action Plan, as well as actors not directly involved in health, such as the World Food Programme, the International Monetary Fund and the International Labour Organization. He further announced technical and financial assistance for countries to implement the Global Action Plan.

Dr Tedros thanked the speakers at the session, as well as the 10 UN signatory organisations for their contributions to the consultations on the Action Plan. ‘I see that our start was too slow, that we need to speed up,’ he said. ‘Ownership at country level is crucial. For me your inputs have made a difference. Saying thank you is a song of the heart.’

October 2018

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