[Dateline: New York | Author: Department of Economic and Social Affairs]
The world is witnessing, with increasing concern, an unprecedented economic and financial meltdown, pushing further millions of people into poverty. As the global financial crisis deepens, the deterioration of public health infrastructure, financing, and delivery of services is having an adverse impact on the health of the world’s most vulnerable, including countries emerging from conflict.
"The current global crisis will have implications not only for the economy of countries but also for the welfare of their populations," stated Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) President Sylvie Lucas. "It is particularly important to take into account its negative consequences for advancing global public health and to introduce offsetting mechanisms to safeguard the progress, which was so hard to achieve."
ECOSOC is convening on Tuesday, 31 March 2009, a global preparatory meeting for its 2009 Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) at United Nations Headquarters in New York to address this critical situation. The event is expected to make an important contribution to the theme of the 2009 AMR, "Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to global public health", to be held at this year’s Substantive Session of ECOSOC, in Geneva this July.
At the Global Preparatory Meeting, Member States, representatives from the United Nations system, the private sector, civil society and academia will assess the progress made so far in achieving the health goals, and the solutions and next steps to be envisaged. The meeting will also focus on the current health challenges, lessons learned and best practices in post-crisis situations.
For instance, Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon stressed, "We must join forces and work together to ensure that the increasing resources being dedicated to health are translated into even more lives saved."
In these times of economic and financial hardship, many expect that philanthropic foundations and innovative financing initiatives that rely on income from investments are likely to be hit hard. Against this backdrop, partnerships are critical to protecting health and health spending in times of crisis.
Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) stressed that "equitable access to health care, and greater equity in health outcomes are fundamental to a well-functioning economy. I would further argue that equitable health outcomes should be the principal measure of how we, as a civilized society, are making progress."
"Progress in achieving health goals cannot be accelerated, and will not be completed, if the poor and other disadvantaged groups are not reached," declared Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang, highlighting that developing countries and their fragile national health systems, underdeveloped capacity and insufficient financial resources, still confront large gaps between what has been achieved and what still needs to be done. "We must find a way to quickly bridge these gaps."
Countries in or emerging from conflict face an extraordinary hardship. Evidence shows that 22 of the countries farthest from reaching the goals are in or emerging from conflict. And the transition from relief to development poses unique challenges for the health sector that warrant specific responses towards the re-establishment of the regular course of economic and social life. In cases of extended periods of armed conflict and protracted instability, the negative effects on health may be reflected in some loss of previous achievements in Millennium Development Goals (MDG) including those made through development efforts.
The ECOSOC Global Preparatory meeting will start at 10 a.m. with opening statement by ECOSOC President Sylvie Lucas (ECOSOC Chamber), followed by remarks by Ms. Margaret Chan, Director-General, WHO, delivered by Mr. Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General, Health Action in Crisis, WHO, and Mr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).
This will be followed by a keynote presentation by Professor Hans Rosling from the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, and co-founder of Gapminder on the state of implementation of the international health goals, and a panel discussion on the impact of the global financial crisis on global public health.
The panelists are Mr. Andrew Cassels, Director of Strategy, WHO and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Earth Institute, Columbia University, and the discussion will be moderated by Mr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram of DESA.
Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz of Chile, Chair of the Organizational Committee of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission will deliver opening remarks for the afternoon session at 3 pm, followed by presentations of H.E. Mr. Sheku Tejan Koroma, Minister of Health and Sanitation of Sierra Leone, Mr. Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General, Health Action in Crisis of WHO, Mr. Joël Boutroue, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti as well as Ms. Sophie Delaunay, Executive Director of Médecins Sans Frontières/USA.
ECOSOC also held recently a special event with the philanthropic institutions to draw on the lessons learned and explore the possibilities to make advances in maternal and girls’ health and neglected tropical diseases.
An e-Discussion on the theme of the AMR was held from 29 January to 26 February 2009 and attracted a record of over 5000 subscribers, including from health experts from the UN system, practitioners and other policy-makers around the world.
ECOSOC will also launch the President’s Corner tomorrow which will present the most important topics on the agenda of the Council.
As part of the Corner, an Online Lecture Series will start featuring the heads of the Health Eight (H8) organizations (WHO, World Bank, GAVI Alliance, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNAIDS, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) which will address the important issue of global public health.
All staff are invited to connect to these ECOSOC initiatives and attend the various meetings.