Opening speech: Symposium – Global governance for health post 2015

Rector Ottesen, distinguished speakers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to this symposium here in Oslo. With the adoption of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals less than half a year ago, I believe the timing is right for addressing today's theme: The need of global governance for health to properly address the ambition expressed in the SDGs.

For several decades, Norwegian governments – from left to right – have given high priority to global health. We have done this because we believe in health investments as a cornerstone of development, for the individual and for societies: Health investments increase wealth in a society, and economic development improves health.

As a health minister, I should add another important reason why Norway commits to global health: It is in our self-interest. Threats to health know no boundaries. Communicable diseases can only be controlled if all countries have in place basic systems for monitoring, prevention, containment and response. Likewise, such systems are crucial to counter the spread of anti-microbic resistance, which is in position to threaten modern medicine as we know it.

The ebola outbreak in 2014 reminded us that, today, this is not the case in large parts of the world. If all countries have such systems in place, this improves Norwegian health security. Thus, protection from infectious diseases and safeguarding the effectiveness of antibiotics constitutes a global public good.

But poor health is also about global trends and how they shape individual life-styles. Global market forces push behaviour, as we have seen with tobacco, alcohol, or the use of sugar, fats and salt in pre-processed food. We call these the commercial determinants of health. They impact the occurence of non-communicable diseases. A small country with limited resources can only influence such megatrends through international cooperation, with both state and non-state actors.

Like many other countries, Norway works to reduce the occurence of non-communicable diseases, now one of the SDG targets. NCDs and their causes are a key example of how other sectoral policies affect health. Pollution control, city planning, education and taxation policies are just examples of this. But we need international cooperation to gain acceptance for trade-limiting measures, like what Norway and other progressive countries do with tobacco policies.

The SDGs stress the importance of national ownership and commitment, in order to ensure sustainability. For this reason, health system strengthening, and particularly ensuring the availability of appropriately skilled and motivated health personnel, should be cross-cutting priorities if we are to reach the health-related targets of the SDG agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, speakers will address issues such as global health preparedness and response, the threat of anti-microbial resistance and the influence of multi-lateral corporations in health risk factors. These are but some examples of why global cooperation, alignment and stewardship is needed in the field of health. What we need, is not just to conclude that 'this is important', but to find meaningful tools, and  to make change happen.

In this room we represent government, key health and educational institutions and non-governmental organisations. My hope is that this day gives us an opportunity to build stronger ties between academia, the voluntary sector and the health services in Norway, when we in the next years address how we all can contribute to improved health for all.

Thank you.