A window of opportunity to transform the future of global health

Students playing volleyball on a large playfield.

Since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in 2000, a growing global health community, spanning researchers and innovators on the one hand to politicians on the other, has proven effective in working for health and development. This successful cooperation now needs to be widened both in scope and depth as we look toward 2030.

Bending the curve of child mortality—lowering it from 12.6 million in 1990 to fewer than 6.6 million in 2012—was only partly due to new vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, health devices, and digital tools. Politicians were also called to action, as the very nature of the MDGs forced them to think more smartly about how states should address child mortality.

The MDGs acted as a scorecard for measuring development, an empirical basis for drawing up policy. Systematic measurement and accountability were no longer requirements for the technical community alone, but for politicians worldwide. They needed to ensure that breakthroughs in the field of health actually trickled down to the people who needed them.

There are various ways of doing this, such as creating market-shaping mechanisms, establishing public–private partnerships, or the successful conclusion of regional and global trade negotiations.

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 be limited in number, clearly understandable, and measurable, but at the same time achievable. If they are not, they will not win political support. Purse strings will be tightened, and the vision will be harder to sell. This is why simplicity is paramount. The simplicity of the MDGs is one of the reasons they were effective.
At the same time, 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-sectoral and sustainable approach that is effective on the ground. The Norwegian government is looking closely at the links between education and health. There is strong evidence that education improves the chances of a healthy life, just as good health is a key factor in education and for subsequent employment. This is particularly true for girls. 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.

Norway intends to work with various partners to identify and promote innovative approaches that create synergies between health and girls’ education at all levels.
Second, the SDGs need to be universal. This means that they will apply just as much to Norway as to the rest of the world. We are already developing plans to reduce our greatest health burden: noncommunicable diseases, including mental health problems. At the same time, we can see interesting links between global and national development agendas.

For example, we believe that homegrown solutions can often be applied elsewhere. We are convinced that high-quality medical care and preventive medicine need not only be for the rich. Prices can be drastically reduced if we find smart solutions. It has been done many times and can of course be done again.

It is not easy to predict what innovations will be developed in the period up to 2030. But there are already good ideas out there. This is why we have launched Innovation Countdown 2030, which will systematically identify and assess curve-bending 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.

We now have a window of opportunity to transform the future of global health through the new development framework—if we put our minds together.

Photo: PATH/Aaron Joel Santos.