BRICS Pledge Healthcare Support for Africa: Just as the World's Economic Centre of Gravity Is Shifting North to South and West to East, and as Traditional Donors Deal with a Financial Crisis That Is Impacting Their Aid Assistance to Africa, the BRICS Nations Are Developing a New Focus on Global Health Issues. Stephen Williams Reports

By Williams, Stephen | New African, May 2012 | Go to article overview

BRICS Pledge Healthcare Support for Africa: Just as the World's Economic Centre of Gravity Is Shifting North to South and West to East, and as Traditional Donors Deal with a Financial Crisis That Is Impacting Their Aid Assistance to Africa, the BRICS Nations Are Developing a New Focus on Global Health Issues. Stephen Williams Reports


Williams, Stephen, New African


Last month, the Global Health Strategies initiatives (GHSi) published a major report on what it termed "the intersections between major growth economies and global health efforts". This followed on from last year's BRICS Ministers of Health meeting where a commitment was made to support and undertake inclusive global public health co-operation projects, including through South-South and triangular co-operation. The BRICS group, an informal association of the world's fastest growing developing economies, made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, are beginning to exert their ever-increasing influence in a number of areas, not just within the global economy.

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At the 2011 meeting, the BRICS Health Ministers committed to use their organisation's platform as "a forum of co-ordination, co-operation and consultation on relevant matters related to global public health".

In a previous report that was distributed to heads of government at the 2011 G20 meeting, philanthropist Bill Gates expressed his excitement concerning "the potential for these rapidly growing countries [the BRICS] to form partnerships with poor countries to advance development".

The GHSi, thanks to a grant funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, prepared the Shifting Paradigm report, to give substance to Bill Gates' enthusiasm. Published to coincide with the BRICS leaders meeting held in India's capital New Delhi at the end of March, it provides a comprehensive analysis of the role that the five-member group is taking to improve global health.

The report was given little attention by the Western media who chose to focus on the BRICS' plan to create a multilateral bank, providing a counterweight to the World Bank, and also the threat to withhold funding to the Bretton Woods institutions unless the BRICS were given a bigger voice in the mechanism of the World Bank and IMF decision-making procedures.

But as this report makes clear, the Delhi summit disclosed a commitment to a very important development - that the BRICS intend to support international development and will become important donors and health innovators.

As the GHSi report states, the BRICS are still developing countries, and as such they continue to face significant health challenges of their own. So their interest and goals in supporting global health and development efforts are tempered by their own domestic circumstances.

But all five countries have already made significant contributions to Africa's health sector and development in general by financing programmes, capacity building and (perhaps most notably) through ensuring that Africans enjoy improved access to affordable medicines.

To highlight two developments that took place last year, China's Ministry of Science and Technology announced a $300m partnership with the Gates Foundation to fund research and development for global health (and agricultural production). Russia also committed $36m to support a global response to non-communicable diseases.

It could be argued that the BRICS, as far as Africa is concerned, are in part filling a vacuum that has been left for far too long by the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO). While the WHO takes Africa's health issues very seriously, and indeed the region's Brazzaville-based headquarters co-ordinates many important WHO interventions, the UN body issued its first and only report on Africa's health sector more than five years ago.

That report concluded that the African region - in 2007 defined by WHO as its 46 member countries, i.e. African countries excluding Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti and Sudan - needed to build and reinforce their health systems as a platform to provide a broad range of essential healthcare services to their peoples. The WHO's report, The Health of the People, stated: "There is no 'one-size fits all'. …

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BRICS Pledge Healthcare Support for Africa: Just as the World's Economic Centre of Gravity Is Shifting North to South and West to East, and as Traditional Donors Deal with a Financial Crisis That Is Impacting Their Aid Assistance to Africa, the BRICS Nations Are Developing a New Focus on Global Health Issues. Stephen Williams Reports
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