D-tree was pleased to attend the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York at the end of September which marked a historical moment in the UN’s leadership at the midpoint in efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals commitments by 2030, and from the global health perspective, we are now one year until the UN convenes a high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to revisit global commitments made in 2019. David Hershberg, Director of Partnerships, reflects on the discussions.
Many of the hard-earned lessons from the past three years were shared during UNGA and the side events, such as the need for global cooperation in the face of a health crisis and discussions about what is needed to build resilient health systems around the globe to better prepare and manage the next one and it is clear that global cooperation is critical. The Global Fund successfully raised a historic $14.25 billion which, while still shy of the $18 billion the Fund estimated is needed to save 20 million lives in the year ahead, represented the majority of G7 countries increasing their contributions by over 33%, pooling together what President Biden called “one of the largest global health fundraisers in all of history.” And yet, the prevailing sense among global health leaders at the summit was that health equity for all is not yet a reality, and to reach our goals, we need to redouble our efforts.
Here are three themes that emerged during UNGA that we will be paying attention to at D-tree:
The need to invest in and take a systems lens
It’s become clearer than ever before that health, environmental, economic and social development is all interrelated. The ripple effects of COVID-19, ostensibly a health crisis, on our social, political and economic landscape are evident to everyone. Similarly, the interconnectedness between a warming climate and successfully eradicating infectious diseases like malaria illustrates the need for donors, private sector actors, NGOs and governments to find better ways of working together across funding and programmatic silos to address challenges holistically. Naveen Rao of the Rockefeller Foundation summarized it by saying that the mosquito when flying, is a municipal government and environmental issue, and when it bites, is a public health issue. Beyond lofty aspirational goals, the SDGs can be seen as a matrixed framework that can be used to channel and coordinate funding and response in order to address the interconnected crises of climate change, health, conflict, poverty and inequality while leaving no one behind.
The role of the private sector in building local capacity and new models of funding
There was a tremendous presence of corporates like Sanofi, Pfizer, Accenture, Cargill, Visa, Bechtel and many others at UNGA. Caroline Roan from Pfizer cited that historically in the health space, pharma was focused primarily on the research and development of new drugs and therapeutics, and while that remains true, corporates have now also acknowledged the need to lend their expertise to building health systems and ecosystems for innovation. Many are now investing, seeding and scaling the efforts of local entrepreneurs; helping them bring their health innovations to scale, which in turn creates jobs, attracts talent and contributes to a resilient local ecosystem. Others are directly investing in training and equipping frontline health workers and acknowledging their vital role in safeguarding populations from the next pandemic.
The essential need to invest in primary care and frontline health workers
By far some of the most impactful discussions at UNGA were about the essential role that community health workers played in maintaining essential health services during the pandemic while health system utilization otherwise plummeted globally. Over and over again, governments, corporates and donors acknowledged the essential role frontline health workers, and community health workers specifically, play in advancing UHC and the need to invest in their professionalization and wellbeing. But the reality remains that globally, only 14% of these essential health workers are paid and over 70% of the uncompensated health workers are women. To truly accelerate UHC and health equity, donors, governments and world leaders must invest in training, professionalization and fair compensation so that they can truly go as far as it takes to bring primary healthcare within reach of everyone, everywhere.
With these macro and micro trends in mind, and with the clock ticking (quite literally), we at D-tree are energized to redouble our efforts to work with our partners – public, private and donors – to help governments harness the power of digital health to improve access to primary health for all, and empower frontline health workers as the key to a more resilient future.