BMZ joins forces with BMG and BMBF to engage scientists in innovating for health
In October 2018, Berlin played host to two high-level global health events: over the course of a single week, the World Health Summit (14-16 October) and the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting (16-18 October) brought together about 3000 participants, including top-level scientists and researchers, high-profile political decision makers, health systems experts, leaders of health-related industries, civil society representatives as well as students and young professionals. During and between the sessions they networked and discussed the major health challenges of today and tomorrow, and the role of health as both the cornerstone of and engine for sustainable social and economic development.
The Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative was launched in 2003 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is modelled on a list of important unsolved problems which the mathematician David Hilbert put forward 100 years ago to challenge mathematicians around the world to come up with innovative solutions to them. Initially the Initiative invited creative minds across scientific disciplines to come up with breakthrough solutions for 14 major global health challenges. After a decade of progress, Grand Challenges in Global Health continues under a new name – Grand Challenges – to reflect the fact that its scope has broadened to encompass global development more broadly. Twice each year, proposals for initial grants of $100,000 can be submitted, and successful projects can receive follow-on funding of up to $1 million.
The Annual Meeting is an opportunity for past, present and future applicants to exchange on projects, ideas and lessons learned in addressing health and development challenges. This year’s meeting focused on innovations and research in the fields of crop research, antimicrobial resistances, growth and resilience, health systems strengthening and health crisis prevention, next generation sequencing, drug discovery and translation, the power of adolescents as well as vaccines and global health technology.
Time to accelerate the delivery of health-related SDG targets
Delegates and speakers at both events shared the concern that current efforts to realise the healthier, more prosperous, inclusive and resilient world envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are insufficient. They therefore welcomed the presentation by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s Director General, of a Global Action Plan for Health and Wellbeing, in which 11 global health organisations have committed to a shared framework for collective action. The Plan’s signatories agree to align their contributions to country-led and country-owned plans; to accelerate progress across the health-related SDG targets; and to enhance their accountability for delivering sustainable results.
Engaging scientists in health systems strengthening and health security
Joining forces with the federal ministries of health (BMG) and of research and education (BMBF), the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) recognised the opportunity to engage the minds of scientists and researchers attending the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in collaboration and innovation in the context of the Global Action Plan. To focus their interest and competencies, it organised the track ‘Health Systems Strengthening and Health Crisis Prevention,’ which featured an array of acclaimed German and international specialists from academic and research institutes and development cooperation agencies who presented their expertise and research interests regarding these topics.
In this part of the Annual Meeting particular emphasis was placed on sharing examples of excellence and innovation from countries in the global South. One such example, presented by Ethreda Chao and Jackson Kiaria, was the Kenyan mobile money savings platform Afya Plan, which aims to make health care services accessible to marginalised low-income families. Developed with support from German development cooperation, Afya Plan was named the Most Promising App in 2017 by the BMZ Africa Initiative. It also won the poster presentation at this year’s Grand Challenges within the health crisis prevention and health systems strengthening track.
A round table to elicit scientists’ perspectives on the Global Action Plan for Health and Wellbeing
To gauge scientists’ and researchers’ views on the Global Action Plan on Health related SDGs, BMZ hosted a Round Table Event on the second day of the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting. In his introduction, Heiko Warnken, Head of BMZ Division Health, Population Policy and Social Protection, reminded the participants that cross-sectoral collaboration was crucial for the achievement of the SDGs. ‘Let’s walk the talk and get out of the health silo. Global challenges require global alignment and cooperation.’
Next, Peter Singer, Special Advisor to WHO’s Director General, gave participants an overview of the Global Action Plan. He highlighted that bringing the eleven leading global health organisations to the table was the plan’s first achievement: ‘The content of this plan is one thing, but the trust capital that it has built already is in itself a very significant part of the puzzle.’
Research findings can and should inform health policy
In the discussion that followed researchers present at the meeting made it clear that they had an important contribution to make to the health system strengthening that was needed if health-related SDG-targets were to be achieved. They called upon health system planners and decision-makers to make effective use of their findings. ‘As scientists we know how to measure and we do measure at the front line where health service delivery happens. Please use us and our data for your policies and activities.’
Involving partner countries in the discussion of the Global Action Plan
In addition, delegates emphasized the view that stronger accountability mechanisms were needed to ensure that the Global Action Plan was implemented and – most importantly – that partner country governments had to be in the drivers’ seat. ‘We do not sit here and develop smart systems, and countries are expected to implement them.’ In his concluding words, the moderator thanked everyone for their contributions and underscored that involving partner countries in the discussion will be one of BMZ’s top priorities in the coming months.