Statement at Ministerial round table

High-level commission on health employment and economic growth. Addressing health workforce deficits, stimulating employment and inclusive economic growth. Organized by the delegations of Brazil, France, Norway and South Africa.

Thank you, Precious, and thank you to my fellow co-organizers of this event, and representatives of the co-chairs of the Commission. I would also like to thank the ILO, OECD and especially WHO, for providing the secretariat for the work of this Commission. I am very excited to see the work already progressing well and look forward to our joint work on the recommendations.

I also ask for your understanding that I will not be able to stay for the entire duration of this event, as I have to leave to catch my flight.

The objective of the Commission’s  work fits very well with the overall theme of this year’s health assembly – the Sustainable Development Agenda. I was very pleased to see many important health targets included among the SDGs. But at the same time we have to be honest: the agenda is very comprehensive. We as representatives of government are preparing to take the agenda forward at national level, and we find that we have to prioritize. We have to identify the best interventions and measures, the ones where synergies to other fields of work are the strongest.

We are facing a global NCD epidemic, ageing and growing populations, a rise in mental health problems, and the prospect of new pandemics.

I believe that a large part of the answer to all of these health related challenges lies at the core of this Commission's mandate: we need to strengthen our health systems in the right ways. I believe it has been put very clearly by many before me: In order to meet the needs of today and the future, it is estimated that we need 40 million new health workers, many of them in low- and middle income countries. Seen from the perspective that the SDG goals are integrated, and that success in one area will help us succeed in another, this Commission really has the potential to be a driver for the realization of several of the development goals. Furthermore, improvements in health for the weakest and the poorest will be beneficial to all.

One of my main messages in this regard has been that we have to start in the right end of the scale. I believe educating generalists to work in a decentralised health care system will have great effect. To educate health personnel and nurses to work in the primary health service, will be one key to dealing with people's everyday health problems – everywhere. The balance and co-ordination between the specialised services and the basic primary health care will be increasingly important. The challenges ahead, like NCDs and a stronger focus on health promotion,  underlines the need for building strong primary care. Network solutions, information systems to enable contact between hospitals, health care centres and health personnel in all regions are important. Decentralised education of nurses and other health professions are also important. People also tend to stay in the districts where they are educated. 

Another message of mine has been regarding gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Many believe that Norway is a rich country because of our oil. It is true that we are in a fortunate situation, but If you are to remember one thing from my intervention tonight, it should be the following: the high participation of women in the Norwegian workforce is contributing more to our economy than oil and gas do. The goal of this Commission is to demonstrate the need for, and facilitate, the creation of 40 million new jobs in the health sector. We know that health is a sector that traditionally employs many women. Therefore, it think this is a real opportunity to strengthen the position of women and girls in society. We can use this opportunity to make meaningful progress towards gender equality. I think that this is one of the most powerful levers we have towards realizing the SDG agenda.

My last point relates to the prevention of infectious disease outbreaks: As we all know, the ebola crisis was a very good demonstration of what can happen in the absence of a well-functioning primary health service. Efforts are now being made to prevent such disasters from happening again. We should remember that the most effective defence against outbreaks, is prevention. And the best prevention is universal health coverage, especially through the primary health service. We all saw the tragic consequences of the outbreak in West Africa, and we have seen it before. Such events have repercussions across society, and hurts the general prosperity of countries. A massive expansion of the primary health service is important in order to prevent future pandemics.

So in closing: I am hopeful that we as Commissioners can demonstrate that investments in health personnel education, employment and retention will help create economic growth, it will improve health for all, and be a great help towards gender equality. The Director-General also said this in her address yesterday: Investments in health lead to prosperous societies. This is a powerful argument, which can help close the health worker gap and extend coverage to those who need it the most.

Thank you.