Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Global Health: Sustaining Momentum

By Kristin Schneeman, Program Director, FasterCures

In a forward-looking discussion on “Global Health: Sustaining Momentum” at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference in Los Angeles, Robert Sebbag – Vice President for Access to Medicines at sanofi-aventis – when asked by moderator Frank Sesno for evidence of momentum in global health, kicked off the panel by noting the diversity of the panelists’ backgrounds and remarking, “Was it even possible to have this debate 20 years ago?” Millions of lives have been saved, and global health, he said, has become a widely accepted tool of global diplomacy.

Panelists also identified risks to progress, including:

1) the global financial crisis, which threatens both financial capital and the political will to continue to invest it;
2) a new focus on chronic diseases in the developing world which threatens to distract from infectious and neglected tropical diseases;
3) the need for human capital to manage and execute programs in developing countries;
4) a brain drain of well-educated health workers; bottlenecks in the regulatory process; and
5) the need to more effectively communicate the progress that’s been made and the great returns on these investments to policymakers and the public.

Regina Rabinovitch of the Gates Foundation issued a call to action, saying “This is not the time to let up,” and “The world of global health has a history of failed five-year initiatives.”

Zeke Emanuel of the National Institutes of Health noted that global health funding has benefited from bipartisan support and that the 2011 budget increased more than $66 million, an achievement in an extremely difficult budget environment. He stressed the need to do a better job of showing Americans the improvements this is buying, and how our investment in health helps improve economies in the developed world and our own security. He also raised several times the need to package proven interventions, scale them up, and push them out to large numbers of people.

Ambassador Amina Ali of the African Union emphasized that the health needs of developing countries are too great to entirely rely on philanthropy to address them. She said that creative approaches to private sector funding and investment are needed for the long term. She also stressed the need for donor coordination and a more integrated approach by NGOs.

Sebbag argued that developed countries have a strong self-interest in these issues as globalization and climate change bring some of these diseases to the developed world. He also claimed that many pharmaceutical companies are realizing that significant growth in the future will come from the developing world, that a different economic approach is required, and that they are gaining valuable knowledge and experience by working in these countries.

Watch a video of the session.

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