With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) soon to expire and discussions on a post-2015 framework underway, this year’s World Health Day comes at a time that might well mark a turning point for global health.
At European level, the European Parliament elections might give new momentum to the EU’s engagement on the issue.
Much attention has focused on tackling health challenges following the MDGs’ adoption in 2000. Yet, while important gains have been made in the health areas they address, significant challenges have remained. Neither the maternal nor the child health targets will be reached at current pace. 6.6 million children under the age of five still died in 2012, mainly from preventable diseases.
The number of people newly infected with HIV is falling, yet, in 2012, still an estimated 2.3 million people were infected, 35.3 million people were living with HIV, and 1.6 million died from AIDS. Knowledge about the virus and its transmission among young people remains low.
At the same time, non-communicable diseases, an area neglected by the MDGs, kill some 36 million people each year and are on the rise in both industrialised and developing countries.
Laying the groundwork for the decades ahead
Now, 14 years after the MDGs were adopted, we’re again at a crucial moment for global development, with the MDGs reaching their deadline and the post-2015 agenda subject of increasing debate. Calls for the next framework to be a universal one, applying to both developing and industrialised countries, with the latters’ commitments going beyond mere financing obligations, are many.
Yet, at times of declining aid budgets and increasing focus on internal affairs, the danger is for the global nature of many of today’s challenges – in health and beyond – to get missed.
Acknowledging global challenges
It is important for policymakers and citizens to understand that most of the challenges being faced today are interlinked and global, and cannot be tackled by looking inwards only. Taking on climate change and repeated economic crises, which have severe consequences for health and other areas, needs global approaches and willingness for change from all corners.
As the world’s biggest donor of development aid, largest trading block and an important actor in world politics, the EU should be setting the bar high at this moment of opportunity when global structures and inherited ways of doing development are up for review.
The upcoming European Parliament elections mark an important moment in EU affairs, bringing a reshuffle of key positions within the EU and some likely change in its political landscape.
They present an opportunity for rethinking development approaches, revisiting political priorities and setting new agendas. New stakeholders might bring new and invigorated commitment to taking on today’s challenges, changing pace at European and global level and affecting policy-making well beyond the EU’s borders.
Following through on commitments made
No matter, though, what the outcome of the European Parliament elections and post-2015 discussions, there are a great many commitments that the EU and its member states have already made and that they cannot be given leeway on.
A commitment to health as a human right, to be respected, protected and fulfilled, including through international cooperation, is one of them.
Development aid is but one of the means leading towards realising the right to health and will be but one among many areas industrialised countries will be asked to deliver on post-2015 if proponents of a universal framework have their way. However, it is an area that won’t allow for compromise. EU leaders have repeatedly stated their aim of dedicating 0.7% of gross national income to official development assistance and they must follow through on this commitment.
Furthermore, the EU has repeatedly emphasised its support for policy coherence for development, taking development cooperation objectives into account in non-development policies, such as in areas of trade and security, and thus ensuring development policies are not undermined by contradicting approaches in other fields.
Global Health Pledge
With the European Parliament elections just around the corner, Action for Global Health, together with a large group of fellow civil society organisations engaged on health and development, has developed a “Global Health Pledge” for candidates in the elections outlining these and other matters requiring EU focus in the years to come.
EU policymakers must be held accountable to the commitments they have made. If you are a candidate in the European Parliament elections, sign the pledge and make sure global health features high among the Parliament’s priorities during the upcoming legislature.