I have just spent the last 4 days in Brighton at a meeting which brought together the majority of DFID’s health advisers for 4 days of discussion, strategy making and learning. Brighton was great, it was cold but there were blue skies. I even managed to get up early to watch the sun rise and a cloud of starlings take flight from the old pier.
These meetings happen once every two years, and are a great opportunity for advisers to update themselves on the work that colleagues are doing all over the world and to be briefed on current policy priorities. The meeting was particularly important this year given the need to plan how to reduce the potential impact of the global economic crisis on the lives of poor people in developing countries. The last ten years have seen some remarkable development gains, with economic growth lifting millions of people out of poverty, however those gains are now under threat because of the economic downturn. Whilst the fall in the value of the British pound has already reduced the value of the UK’s support to countries like Mozambique, it is the decrease in global trade and in foreign investment in countries like Mozambique that will have the greatest impact. In this economic climate, it becomes even more important that we try to protect the poorest from the worst effects of the crisis, as well as making the resources that are available work to maximum effect. This will be one of the main areas of focus of the proposed new Development White Paper, which has as a working title, ‘Eliminating Poverty: Assuring our Common Future’.
The health advisers agreed that there are several key areas where interventions either with or through the health sector can help reduce the impact of the economic crisis. I will go in to each of these in a bit more detail in future blogs, but for now, I’ll just list the biggest priorities.
Firstly, it was acknowledged that in many countries, where health services are not free at the point of use, having to pay for health care can push poor people further in to poverty. Rob Yates, a vocal advocate of free services for mothers and children highlighted the recent New York agreement on the importance of free services for mothers and children. There was considerable support to further explore the promotion of free health services as part of the international response to the economic support to poor countries and as a part of social protection packages.
The consequences of rising food prices on childhood nutrition last year are already estimated to have damaged a generation of children, with hunger having harmed the both physical and mental development. Ensuring that the cost of food doesn’t deny more children access to essential nutrition also needs to be part of the international response to the economic crisis.
Whilst the list of important health issues is much longer, the third issue I want to highlight is the need to make effective use of the limited funds that are available. In that context discussions on the International Health Partnership, a primary objective of which is to increase the alignment and harmonisation of financing to maximise its effective utilisation is a priority. I’ve talked about the IHP previously – and will give an update in one of my next blogs.