23 September 2014
NEW YORK – A passionate call for low and middle income countries to increase their spending on health was launched by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the United Nations General Assembly on Monday evening.
Hosting an event called “Domestic Financing for Health: Invest to Save,” President Kenyatta laid the groundwork for a strong partnership for increased investments in health, bringing together leaders from several African countries, the African Union, United Nations Foundation and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Rwanda Minister of Health Dr. Agnes Binagwaho joined President Kenyatta and other African leaders at the event, signalling a unity of purpose in a bid to sustain momentum against the world’s most challenging diseases.
Countries implementing health programs financed by international funders are playing a bigger role in financing health. This has led to a tremendous impact on global health. Last year during the Global Fund replenishment conference, which galvanises resources for the fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, several African countries made significant commitments to increasing their investments in response to the diseases and in strengthening health systems in their countries.
In the coming years, these countries are expected to take a leading role not only in urging the world to spend more in fighting diseases but also in investing more of their own money toward saving lives of their people. Yesterday’s meeting, led by Kenya, signals an accelerated effort toward that end.
President Kenyatta urged African countries to explore ways to galvanize local resources for health, to build health systems and sustainable interventions against diseases. “We have depended on external help for health services, but we have to mobilise domestic resources to find our own solution instead of moving from one crisis to another,” President Kenyatta said.
The President’s keynote remarks led to a panel discussion that made a strong case for spending more local resources on health as a way to saving lives as well as strengthening economies.
A report published last year by the AU and UNAIDS said that from 2001 to 2011, health budgets in AU Member States increased from 9 percent to 11 percent of public expenditures. Six AU Member States – Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, Togo and Zambia – have achieved a target set in Abuja in 2001 to allocate 15 percent of public expenditure to health.
President Kenyatta said Kenya is making plans to hit this target. Saying that the fruits of Africa’s economic growth would only be beneficial if proper investments were channelled towards health, the president urged African countries to invest in their own solutions to keeping their people healthy.
In a spirit of shared responsibility and global solidarity, the meeting focused on the need to pool local and global resources to garner substantial wherewithal to enable the world to achieve victory over the world’s deadliest infectious diseases – HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. The meeting also explored what leaders from low and middle income countries can do to accelerate wide-ranging and innovative investments in health.
Lawrence H. Summers, Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard University, who now chairs the Lancet Commission on Investing in Health, GlobalHealth2035.org, also spoke at the event. He argued that today we have the technology and financial means to close the health gap between poorer and richer nations, to achieve what he is calling “a grand convergence in health.”
“The grand convergence would dramatically reduce infectious, maternal and child deaths within one generation, averting 10 million deaths in 2035,” Dr. Summers said. “Governments in low and middle income countries must invest in health. Just 1 percent of their economic growth over the next two decades would fund the grand convergence. The global community must support poorer countries and spearhead the search for new technologies."
Other panellists included Dr. Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund, and Tumusiime Peace, the Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union.