Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Development Strategy Remains Fragmented

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday, September 9/07

Zack Gross

It is past the midpoint in the United Nations’ attempt to reach its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of significant improvement in the lives of people in Africa. 

July 7th – as in 07/07/07 – was the ceremonial halfway mark of the fifteen-year timetable set by world leaders back in 2000 to positively impact such huge challenges as lack of primary education, the continued spread of HIV/AIDS and the high death rate among mothers and children. 

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in his 10 years in office, was a champion of the MDGs and of increased aid to Africa, and his successor Gordon Brown seems to be following suit.

Many African countries spend as little as $10 per citizen per year on health care and employ only one health care worker per 1000 citizens.  The British average is 30 times the spending and 10 times the personnel.  More than half the population of developing countries has no access to essential medicines.  Half a million women die in Africa in childbirth each year while 10 million children do not reach their fifth birthday.  Only one-quarter of those suffering from AIDS receive treatment.

The new British Prime Minister, supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, launched this past week an International Health Partnership of global agencies, trade unions, the private sector and Third World governments to confront these realities and re-invigorate the effort to meet the MDGs by 2015.  Other nations, including Norway, Netherlands, Portugal and Canada, are also lending their support.

To ensure lasting results, the Partnership will work to build national health systems in target countries, rather than focus on individual diseases and other shorter- term goals.  It is hoped that the pharmaceutical industry will come on board with more affordable drugs to combat all diseases in poor nations.

The initiative also promotes the idea of all partners coordinating their efforts rather than setting up costly and time-consuming separate relationships with national governments. 

For instance, in Cambodia, 22 donors support 109 different health projects.  The World Bank, Save the Children, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the African Development Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Commission have all signed onto this joint program enthusiastically. 

One critic of this initiative, ActionAid in Britain, has expressed concern that, at least in past similar efforts, none of the essential ingredients has been forthcoming: enough funding, international co-ordination, nor the reciprocal commitment of Third World national governments.  What reason is there to believe, they ask, that these will be delivered this time?

The first grouping of Southern nations to participate in the International Health Partnership includes Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia in Africa and Cambodia and Nepal in Asia.  British PM Gordon Brown says that the industrialized national partners have the knowledge and power to save millions of lives by conquering polio, TB, measles, pneumonia, malaria and ultimately HIV/AIDS. 

While the US is not participating in this initiative, British officials say that US support is forthcoming.  Again, critics such as OXFAM caution that increased and predictable funding must be mobilized or this will be just another failed or partial effort.  It hopefully will not be another example of the US refusing to work in international partnerships.

People often make their decisions based on two considerations: generosity and self-interest.  The wealthy nations of our world have the resources to be generous.  They also realize that it is in their self-interest to work together to eradicate disease as, in our global village, illness can spread and threaten us all.  Disease also increases and prolongs poverty, and this leads to economic and political instability and conflict, more threats that must be eradicated.  It is to be hoped that the International Health Partnership constitutes a step in that direction.

Zack Gross is program coordinator at the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of 35 international development organizations active in our province.

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