UN Efforts for Global Health: Instituting Innovations for Improvement

By Brundtland, Gro Harlem | Harvard International Review, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

UN Efforts for Global Health: Instituting Innovations for Improvement


Brundtland, Gro Harlem, Harvard International Review


The global community has long understood the importance of public health to world prosperity, security, and cooperation. The World Health Organization (WHO) was established in 1948 as the first specialized agency of the United Nations. Its constitution established its mandate "to promote and protect the health of all peoples ... without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition." Over the course of the last several decades, together with the United Nations Children's Fund, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and other specialized UN agencies, WHO activities paved the way to reduce childhood mortality by almost 60 percent globally. The world has eradicated smallpox, and polio has been reduced by 99 percent. Scientific and technical discoveries have helped increase life expectancy, have afforded women the opportunity to plan and space their children, and have improved the quality of life for millions.

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Yet approximately eight million children under live still die each year, largely from preventable diseases. More than 200 million women who would like access to family planning do not have it. And close to 360,000 women die in childbirth each year, almost exclusively in the developing world. In fact, of all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the least progress has been made on the goals related to women's and children's health.

In September 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a new Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health. This strategy was designed to redouble collective efforts to meet the health-related MDGs and to accelerate progress. It pooled the ideas, commitments, and resources of governments, philanthropic institutions, and other funders: the United Nations and multilateral organizations; civil society and non-governmental organization; the business community; health-care workers and professionals; and academic and research institutions. All in all, the contributors committed more than US$40 billion in new resources, with the potential to save the lives of 16 million women and children under five.

A cornerstone of this Global Strategy is innovation. In just the last decade, innovations in the financing and delivery of public health goods and services have advanced markedly, anchored by the valuable role of the United Nations. If we are to collectively achieve the MDGs and the ambitious targets embedded in the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, we must learn from recent innovations in global health, stretch and use them to their fullest potential, and identify new models that will further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of global health delivery.

Innovations in global health financing

After a decade-long boom in financing for global health, funding levels are beginning to taper off, and resource constraints will only get more noticeable in the future. However, there are several recent innovations in global health financing--in which the United Nations plays a substantive role--that will help us meet the challenge of delivering more value for money and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of each aid dollar.

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Arguably the largest advances in global health financing in the past decade included the establishment of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The launch of GAVI in 2000 was one of the most promising events during my tenure at the WHO, innovative because it took a deep and long view about the value of immunizations and intensified public and private sector commitments to children's health. It also paved the way to launch the Global Fund two years later. Since that time, both of these global financing institutions have saved close to 11 million lives by pooling donor funding, coordinating technical assistance from UN partners, basing funding decisions on nationally-driven priorities and prior results in recipient countries, and creating virtually unparalleled levels of transparency and accountability in the management of resources. …

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