‘Catalyst dialogues’ provide new perspectives for Germany’s global health policy

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The GHHG and Healthy DEvelopments organising and editorial teams

In a unique collaboration the Global Health Hub Germany and Healthy DEvelopments facilitate, document and share debates between diverse global health actors to enrich and inspire global health policy-making in Germany’s ministries and parliament.

Health in the 21st century will be global – or will not be. This brutal realisation has been brought home to us by the COVID pandemic and the urgent need to implement a coherent and effective worldwide response. The international dimension makes global health an issue of shared interest for development ministries as well as ministries of health, coming from different angles. Other sectors such as foreign affairs, finance, climate, education and research are likewise implicated, because global health concerns so many different actors and needs. The need for a global view on global health is exemplified in the German government’s Global Health Strategy, a joint product of all Federal ministries.

The issue of global health is forcing actors and institutions to think and act beyond their respective ‘silos’

In Germany the Ministry of Health (BMG) is reaching beyond its traditional focus on the German health system to situate health in its global context, while for the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) health – especially in the Global South – is again a number one priority. A sign of the rapprochement between the two sectors is the German Parliament’s new Global Health subcommittee: Where previously this group was attached only to the parliamentary Health committee, it is now shared with the Economic Cooperation and Development committee. In the words of the subcommittee chair, Dr. Andrew Ullmann, ‘We fought for this subcommittee because it is an important link between global economic and development work and national health policy.’ 

This same convergence manifests itself in the brand-new joint initiative of Catalyst Dialogues on global health, associating the two ministries.

The Global Health Hub Germany – a dynamic platform for exchange among Germany’s global health community

In 2019 Germany’s health ministry launched the Global Health Hub Germany (GHHG) as a forum to harness the rich diversity of the country’s non-state actors in global health and promote a constructive exchange among global health stakeholders from different perspectives and sectors. With over 1500 members including more than 200 organisations, eight groups are represented in the GHHG: Youth, Civil Society, Private Sector, Think Tanks, Foundations, Science/Academia, International Organisations/Experts and members of Parliament. 

The GHHG functions as a platform for information, networking and cooperation. It offers a working space where hub communities can coalesce around topics as diverse as Antimicrobial Resistance or Global Mental Health and pursue research and exchange at their own pace – a source of insights and perspectives that feed into German global health policies. Each year, GHHG organises a Global Health Talk in addition to its series of monthly webinars with international experts, attracting hundreds of viewers, on topics ranging from One Health to health priorities for Germany’s current G7 presidency.

When GHHG launched its new format of ‘Catalyst Dialogues’ aiming to create a more focussed impulse to inform global health policies, it reached beyond its existing constellation of experts and stakeholders to tap into German development cooperation’s rich experience promoting health around the world and include the perspective of the global south as an integral part of the dialogue.

Teaming up with Healthy DEvelopments – BMZ’s showcase for health and social protection

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German development cooperation – both technical and financial – has largely focussed on health since its beginnings in the 1970s. Since respectively 2004 and 2013, BMZ’s German Health Practice Collection (GHPC) and the Healthy DEvelopments (HD) web portal have been sharing German development cooperation’s extensive experience in the fields of health and social protection with a worldwide audience through articles, studies and (more recently) podcasts and videos. The Healthy DEvelopments team of writer-researchers has built up solid expertise, not only in topics related to development cooperation, but in ‘telling the story’ and unearthing ‘lessons learned’.

For its part, BMZ has been following GHHG with great interest, and has mandated Healthy DEvelopments to collaborate with the BMG-financed structure to bring in a development perspective as well as its expertise in documenting learnings. Says Sarah Pelull, GHHG’s Head for Catalyst Dialogues, ‘The Healthy DEvelopments team brings added value with their expertise in moderating dialogues and coordinating and documenting shared exchange processes, to steer a group of experts to concisely formulate conclusions and recommendations.’

Anna von Roenne, Managing Editor of Healthy DEvelopments, sees the cooperation with GHHG as a further opportunity for all involved to break out of their silos: ‘BMZ and BMG can benefit mutually from one another. GHHG brings 1500 members who represent German expertise on global health. The development cooperation community is deeply familiar with health systems and health actors in countries of the Global South and brings a vast body of practical learnings from their daily work with them. And Healthy DEvelopments has many years of experience in processing and presenting lessons learned.’ 

The Catalyst Dialogues: harnessing high-level expertise for political decision-makers

What is new and different about the Catalyst Dialogues compared to GHHG’s and Healthy DEvelopments’ existing communication formats? Operationalising the idea of convening expert ‘task teams’ in GHHG’s 2021 Strategy, the Catalyst Dialogues are designed to make sparks! Figuring that high-level experts from different stakeholder groups may have contrasting views on crucial topics of global health, the Catalyst Dialogues bring together a panel of five to seven experts who represent different stakeholder groups in an accelerated, moderated, series of discussions. After an initial exchange among the dialogue participants, individual interviews with each will drill down to capture the essence of their respective positions. The objective is to clearly present (and potentially contrast) their individual points of view, to quickly provide political decision-makers with a much deeper and more nuanced perspective on a controversial issue. 

Kristina Knispel, Managing Director of GHHG, explains: ‘The Catalyst Dialogues are targeted, with a small expert group and with a clear, focussed question. In developing GHHG’s new strategy, we wanted a leverage function, to proactively give impulses to the political level. Our focus are renowned experts who represent different viewpoints in the public debate on the given topic: with the Catalyst Dialogue approach, we can more quickly gather, process and present their contrasting perspectives in a brief paper intended for the German parliament and the responsible ministries.

The first topic: Which global health architecture do we need?

The first Catalyst Dialogue process was launched on April 13 with an ambitious but urgent topic chosen by the GHHG Steering Committee: ‘Which global health architecture do we need?’. Especially crucial in the light of the management of the COVID pandemic, the topic has been building over decades. It is time for an unvarnished assessment of institutions such as WHO, GFATM, GAVI and World Bank or roadmaps such as the UN’s Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-Being for All (GAP SDG 3): How effective have they been, before and during the pandemic? What is the role of governments and non-state actors? What have we learned from their failures and limitations, but also their successes? Are there promising initiatives and innovations that should be adopted? How do global health actors work together? How should they work together? What kind of global architecture do we want for the future? Is ‘architecture’ even the right word?

A diverse panel of experts takes part in a three-step dialogue process

Participants in this first dialogue have been carefully selected to represent most of GHHG’s stakeholder groups:  

  • Ilona Kickbusch, of the Geneva Graduate Institute, formerly of WHO and Harvard, representing International Organisations 
  • Kate Dodson, Vice President of the United Nations Foundation, representing Foundations 
  • Anna Holzscheiter of the Universities of Dresden and the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre, representing Science/Academia
  • Christoph Benn of the Joep Lange Institute, representing Think Tanks
  • Jean-Olivier Schmidt, Team Leader of the Backup Initiative at GIZ, representing German development cooperation,
  • Roland Göhde, Chair of the German Health Alliance (GHA), representing Private Sector
  • Elhadj As Sy, co-Chair of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, representing International Organisations and the Global South.

All are leaders in their respective domains and have deep experience dealing with global health ‘architecture’, such as it is. All have well-developed positions on it – and about what needs to be done to ‘fix’ it. Their respective viewpoints will be explored, compared and written up during the three steps of the Catalyst Dialogue process:

  • Step 1: Getting an overview of the different positions in a group exchange
  • Step 2: Exploring individual perspectives in one-on-one interviews 
  • Step 3: Moving the debate forward in a final exchange.

Teams from GHHG and Healthy DEvelopments have joined forces to ensure smooth and efficient management of this process. After joint selection of the panellists, GHHG manages the invitations and debates, which are moderated and documented by the Healthy DEvelopments team.  

Results will be published as short paper and podcast: Stay tuned!

The outcomes of the discussion will first be presented in a dedicated session at the GHHG’s Global Health Talk 2022 in early July. A short paper reflecting the different positions of the participants and how these evolved in the course of the dialogue will be published on the Healthy DEvelopments and GHHG websites and presented to decision-makers in BMG, BMZ, other ministries and the Parliament. To reach a wider audience the dialogue highlights will also be released in the Healthy DEvelopments podcast series. So: Stay tuned!

The topics ‘Climate change and global health’ and ‘Health financing´ will be the focus of the next two Catalyst Dialogues.

Dr Mary White-Kaba
May 2022

© GIZ

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