The UN Economic and Social Council convened its 2015 Partnerships Forum on the topic of “The role of partnerships in achieving the post-2015 development agenda: making it happen.” Bill Clinton, President of the Clinton Foundation and 42nd President of the US, gave the opening keynote address with a focus on health systems in developing countries, and the need for financial support to strengthen them.
Other speakers and dialogue sessions further explored health and health-related partnerships.
28 May 2015: The UN Economic and Social Council convened its 2015 Partnerships Forum on the topic of “The role of partnerships in achieving the post-2015 development agenda: making it happen.” Bill Clinton, President of the Clinton Foundation and 42nd President of the US, gave the opening keynote address with a focus on health systems in developing countries, and the need for financial support to strengthen them. Other speakers and dialogue sessions further explored health and health-related partnerships.
Opening the Forum, ECOSOC President Martin Sajdik noted that 2015 marks the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to a universal and transformative development agenda, and highlighted the importance of review mechanisms to ensure coherence and clear, applicable standards on reporting. He said the discussion would build on a February 2015 ECOSOC event on this issue.
Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, said a new, “horizontal” model for problem-solving is required, in which challenges are put at the center and everyone is mobilized to affect change. He said the lessons from responding to the Ebola crisis should be applied to supporting the sustainable development agenda, such as the need to strengthen health systems around the world. He added that partnerships will only work if they are inclusive, transparent and accountable, as well as “in line with the values and principles” of the UN. Eliasson noted the UN Secretary-General’s appointment of a high-level panel on Global Response to Health Crises, and a UN-hosted International Ebola Recovery Conference convening on 10 July 2015.
Clinton said he had returned from Liberia recently, a few days before it was declared Ebola-free. He said the country’s robust economic growth rate, based on years of hard work, had been reversed, and emphasized the need to shift from emergency response to well-staffed health systems to prevent future outbreaks and increase overall health and productivity. Clinton said Liberians want to be more self-reliant and better able to provide health care, and that this is economically sensible: “if we set aside 15% of relief … to strengthening health systems, you wouldn’t have to worry” about future outbreaks, and it would save donor countries money in the long run. Clinton added that partnerships involving all major stakeholders are the best way forward. He called on participants to “exalt partnerships, remind people that many hands lighten the load… and help people understand that the modern world is going to be built – or brought down – by whether we choose inclusive partnerships over exclusive conflicts.” There is no better way to use funds, he said, than to build capacity to make sure countries no longer need outside assistance to take care of their people’s health.
Health ministers from the three countries most affected by Ebola addressed the Forum via video. Bernice Dahn, Liberia, said her country has 100 doctors for 4.5 million people, and has prioritized a resilient health delivery system and work force. She said a community health workforce is needed in addition to doctors, to support the formal health system. Remy Lamah, Guinea, said the top priorities in his country’s three-year health plan are to eliminate the Ebola virus, strengthen heath systems, and improve governance: “Ebola has shown we are stretched to the limit.” Madina Rahman, Sierra Leone: said infection prevention and control are “still not there” because of cultural barriers; called for ensuring that students are safe now that schools have reopened, and encouraging pregnant teens to return to school and have proper prenatal care; and said if Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia don’t have zero cases of Ebola, nobody in the world is safe.
Paul Farmer, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Community-Based Medicine and Lessons from Haiti, Co-founder, Partners In Health, and Chair, Harvard University Medical School Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, moderated a dialogue on “Partnerships in support of strengthening health systems: Building resilience to Pandemics.” Farmer said that economic growth doesn’t automatically build a health care system: “you build a health care system by building a health care system,” such as by creating resources to train and retain workers. He also highlighted the impending epidemic of blindness following the Ebola epidemic, and other consequences of disease, such as orphaning and stigma.
Anthony Fauci, Director, US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said stopping the spread of Ebola entails identifying, isolating, and contact-tracing, all of which require capacity. In a country with a system to conduct such activities, a major outbreak will not occur, he said. After “getting to zero,” staying at zero is only going to happen if the investments remain even when the situation is no longer front page news, he added. Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, Regional Director for Africa, WHO, speaking via video, also stressed the need to sustain interest and commitment beyond “getting to zero,” to improve the health care systems for the future. Gary Cohen, Becton, Dickinson and Co., said Ebola had shown our vulnerability when we have a lack of investment in health systems and response is delayed. He noted human rights, security, and economics reasons to invest in health systems, and said the costs of overcoming an outbreak are higher than the costs to prevent it: “there are very few circumstances where being reactive ends up better than being proactive.” Jeffrey Wright, actor and founder of the Ebola Survival Fund, highlighted survivors’ needs. Rifat Atun, Harvard University, called for a new mode of investment to build health systems.
A second dialogue on “Partnerships for the Post-2015 Era: Reality Check” was moderated by Brenda Killen, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and featured presentations by Carolyn Miles, President and CEO, Save the Children, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director-General, CERN, G.S. Krishnan, Novozymes, India, Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota, Permanent Mission of Brazil, and Mercy Ahun, GAVI.
The 2015 Partnerships Forum also included the launch of the Global Network on Promoting Digital Technologies for Sustainable Urbanization. [Forum Programme] [Forum Webpage] [Opening Remarks of ECOSOC President] [Remarks of Deputy Secretary-General] [Webcast of Clinton Keynote Address] [ECOSOC Press Release] [IISD RS Story on ECOSOC Special Event on Partnerships, February 2015] [UN Press Release on High-level Panel]