A window of opportunity to transform the future of global health

Financial Times Event, New York, 24. september 2014

- Together with partners we now launch Innovation Countdown 2030, which will systematically identify and assess innovations, engage and inspire stakeholders, raise awareness about opportunities for the global health community, and – most importantly – bring investments on board in support of the Sustainable Developmen Goals (SDG), said State Secretary Hans Brattskar at the Financial Times Event: Transformative Innovation for health.

Check against delivery

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, it is an honor to be here tonight to address this distinguished group of people. 

I want to start with thanking the organizers of this event for inviting me to say a few words.

Norway has for many years now put a great emphasis on innovation in global health. We have first-hand experienced the tremendous value of partnerships and innovative ideas, some of which have redoubled the effect of our efforts, and led to greater results.

Together with partners, new ideas have been put to the test, leading to millions more living, and fewer people lost.  Since the Millennium Development Goals were adopted in 2000, a growing global health community, spanning from researchers and innovators on the one hand to politicians on the other has had a great impact on the achievements towards the three MDGs on health.

This successful cooperation between innovation and politics has to be widened both in scope and depth as we look towards 2030.

The importance of cooperation between innovation and politics

Bending the curve of child mortality, halving it from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013, was only partly due to new vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, health devices and digital tools. It was also due to politics. The very nature of the MDGs, exposing a politician if he/her did not deliver on measured results against a set goal, forced politicians to think strategically on how innovations can come to the benefit of more people.

In fact, with the constant measurement and monitoring of the MDGs, adherence to numbers were no longer requirements for the technical community alone, but also for politicians worldwide.

Politicians have the last 15 years also needed to ensure that innovative breakthroughs in the field of health has had an effect – that it has trickled down to those in need.  And terrific things have happened! Instead of waiting for scientists to discover, or waiting for huge medical companies to enter an slowly emerging market, politicians have played their part and created successful market shaping mechanisms such as UNITAID, established public–private partnerships such as the Global Fund or GAVI. We have provided new funds for research and innovation. This political will has been important for the global health community to flourish the way it does. 

And more can surely be done. Politicians should for example conclude more regional and global trade negotiations, potentially shaping the market further for good health. 

We need a functioning SDG agenda

Together we have done great things, but it is urgent that we do more. To this end we need a functioning development framework for the next 15 years.

We must make use of the lessons learned from the MDGs as we draw up the new agenda. The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should therefore be limited in number and clearly understandable, ambitious but at the same time achievable. And important to remember: We measure what we treasure.

The SDGs therefore also must be measurable – focused on results. In the last issue of the Lancet there is a a good article showing how also a quantification of an overall goal on health could be done, thereby possibly measuring convergence in global health. I recommend it.

If these criteria are not in place, I dear the SDGs will not win the kind of political support the MDGs has won. In turn, it is likely that the vision will be harder to sell and purse strings will be tightened.

In short, this is why simplicity is paramount. The simplicity of the MDGs is one of the reasons they were effective. The new SDG agenda also needs to be simple. 

The new SDG agenda offers new possibilities for both innovation and politics. The new agenda needs to be broadened in two important ways. First, health needs to be seen in the context of other areas, such as nutrition, education, climate and governance. We therefore need to ask ourselves how we can develop a trans-sectorial and sustainable approach that is effective on the ground?

The Norwegian Government is looking closely at the links between education and health and would like innovatively to focus on this.

Take girls for example: Educated girls make educated choices. They become pregnant later, and they are thus more likely to be able to feed their children properly and support them through school. Educated girls are less likely to be infected by HIV, and less likely to infect others. The list goes on. We invite you to join us in identifying and promoting innovative approaches that create synergies between health and girls’ education at all levels.

Second, the SDGs will be universal. We can see interesting links between a global and a national development agenda, for poor and rich alike. We believe that home-grown solutions can often be applied elsewhere. High quality medical care and preventive medicine need not only be for the privileged. Prices can be drastically reduced if we find smart solutions. It has been done before, and a common agenda forces us – I think – to explore this further.

Innovation and the SDGs

This is why we together with partners now launch Innovation Countdown 2030, which will systematically identify and assess innovations, engage and inspire stakeholders, raise awareness about opportunities for the global health community, and – most importantly – bring investments on board in support of the SDGs.

This is also why we this September will launch our own national initiative, where we invite a large global health and education community to come together to see which home-grown solution can be of use to others, as well as to ourselves.  

End

I want to end by saying that we now have a window of opportunity safeguard the future of global health through the new development framework. But for it to be successful, we need that all stakeholders involved realizes the importance of simplicity, with prioritized goals and targets that are understood by all in the new agenda.

We need also a common understanding of the importance of measuring our work. We need a scorecard telling us how to improve. We must be able to keep our eyes on the ball. If not, it will be harder to see progress for voters and politicians.

It will be harder to secure financing in both donor countries and recipient countries alike. We need to keep our priorities and politics clear, staking out a clear task for innovation as well as for politics.

This way, our successful partnerships so far, can flourish and develop.  

Thank you.