Health: a global public good
Health has made a recent but noteworthy entrance into world governance.
For about a decade, it has been at the heart of major global issues, because of the ravages and threats of major pandemics.
AIDS kills more than 3 million people each year, including 300,000 children, mainly in Africa. More than 30 million people are living with this disease around the world, making 5 million new infections each year (one every six seconds).
Malaria kills nearly one million people every year. 250 million people are infected and one in two people are exposed.
Tuberculosis kills more than 2 million people per year, with nearly 9 million new infections each year.
Given the scale of these findings, international actions are organized into a two-pronged approach of crisis management / collective health security (SARS, avian influenza epidemics, etc.) and solidarity with regard to poor regions, which are by far hit the hardest.
This dramatic situation makes health a sector offering increased media visibility, lending legitimacy, and, as a result, invested strongly by the political aspect and civil society. In addition to health issues, it is a foreign policy issue in its own right.
The international community has progressively asserted health to be a right for populations (Rio Conference in 1992, right to having a healthy and productive life). Accordingly, global health acquires a moral and normative dimension.
Now, health is on the agenda of every major international arena: the topic of “health and development” has been addressed at every G8 for almost a decade (Okinawa 2000, Gleneagles 2005, Heiligendamm 2007, etc.). It is monitored by all of the big international organizations (UN, EU, World Bank, etc.), truly mobilizes civil societies (NGOs, private foundations, companies) and raises considerable amounts of money. It is also a fruitful sector in terms of initiatives to raise innovative financing or unite existing organizations (here are just a few of the most recent initiatives: “Diplomacy and health”, “Providing for health”, “International Health Partnership”).
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Accordingly, the concept goes beyond the fight against pandemics, to include issues such as access to medicines, behavioural changes (smoking) and improving health systems.
Health is thus a vast concept, closely tied to other areas, such as the environment, growth, internal security of States, made further complex by globalization. Indeed, health risks are on the rise (diseases are spread faster) and new players are emerging and the importance of States is declining relatively in the face of global health challenges.
In addition, in light of the fact that health threats affect the poorest populations (African populations, in particular) first, by far, health is therefore a global issue in terms of condition of the development of societies and as a public aid policy for development.
The good health of the populations is certainly an objective of development policies, but it is also a condition, an essential lever, for the development process.
Moreover, shortcomings in the area of public health are obstacles to all development processes, including in terms of economic growth. For example, malaria causes the loss of nearly 1% of Africa’s GDP each year; the AIDS epidemic is resulting in a demographic and economic crisis (shortage of workers, non-dissemination of knowledge, cost of treatments), maternal mortality causes breaks in social and family cohesion. Without an effective public health system, populations spend a considerable portion of their income on access to medicines and care, and, as a result, fall under the poverty threshold.
Therefore, making health a key part of development policies is above all an essential investment.
Health is thus a significant aspect of all development policies implemented today and plays a role in the progress made in other fields, as issues are often associated: health and education, health and gender equality, health and the fight against poverty, health and economic growth. The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set in 2000 constitute the international community’s ambitious action plan and agenda for development.
Three MDGs out of 8 directly concern health :
MDG 4 : Reduce child mortality
MDG 5 : Improve maternal health
MDG 6 : Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Updated on 09.04.10