Connecting the Dots of Courageous Conversations at GHLS18

By Adeola Akinremi

The conversations in the room at this year’s Global Health Landscape Symposium (GHLS18) suggest one thing: there’s courage and commitment to push the agenda for the inclusion of health for all and financial protection, despite growing obstacles and challenges.

On November 30, 2018, Global Health Council (GHC) brought together policy and program leads from global health organizations across multiple sectors to discuss the community’s advocacy agenda in the face of changes to the global health landscape. The changes include the drastic rollback in U.S investment in global health that equally threatens its leadership position and influence in global health cycle.

To better understand this, earlier analysis of U.S. global health budget by program areas for 2019 by Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shows U.S. investment in global health is diminishing.

“Since FY 2010, U.S. funding for global health has remained relatively flat. The FY 2019 President’s budget request proposes to reduce global health funding to $8.3 billion, its lowest level since FY 2008,” according to KFF.

GHLS18 Panelist Jennifer Kates, Vice President and Director of Global Health & HIV Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, discusses the current state of global health.

The associated opportunity cost with this choice according to many observers at GHLS18 is the threat posed to the U.S national security by certain global health issues. Obviously, prioritizing a sustained, focused commitment to global health security is vital to saving lives and minimizing political and economic instability around the world. In keeping with this reality, the previous U.S. governments have devoted attention to cross-cutting issues of global health and national security.

The other conversation at the symposium revolved around how the U.S policymakers’ perception of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is shaping their policy response to UHC and priority on global health issues. UHC as a target defined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals—equity in access to quality healthcare with protection against financial risk—has received global attention since 2015. Indeed, the World Health Organization and the World Bank designated UHC as a core objective. However, those who work on Capitol Hill or with direct contact to U.S. policymakers have said that the politicians are conflating politics in their constituency with UHC, thereby changing the intent of the SDG goal.

In response, the advocacy community settled for re-orientation of the policymakers through varied tactics that centered on messaging and mobilization. There’s absolutely a need to improve the understanding of the policymakers about UHC in relations to the US and global context of the need it serves.

For instance, 25% of the 101 incoming freshmen in the U.S. Congress are said to be below the age of 40, and many of them were still in college when important global health legislation were passed.

“We as Congress need to take a broader definition of health. We need to consider poverty, displacement, hunger and other underlying issues,” said U.S. Representative Ami Bera (D-CA-07) in a keynote speech at the symposium.

U.S. Representative Ami Bera (D-CA-07) gives keynote remarks at GHLS18.

What’s more, the fireside chats with U.S. government leaders revealed pledge and promises as the

Executive Director and President of Global Health Council, Loyce Pace, welcomed the audience to ask the important questions of the roles of U.S government in global health. The U.S. leaders agreed to need for continued commitments to global health security, scaling of evidence-based interventions, and multi-sector and community-level engagement. To add to this, the symposium equally looked at how leadership changes across multilateral organizations involved in global health management, such as the World Health Organization, Global Fund, and others might impact the future of global health advocacy and policies.

Interestingly, everyone seemed to agree that there’s a lot of continuity despite the changes.

One of the speakers at the conference, Jennifer Kates, who serves as the Vice President and Director of Global Health & HIV Policy at Kaiser Family Foundation said, “The leaders are true global health champions. What has shifted is the tectonic plate under that. The geo-politics is affecting that space. But they demonstrate commitment.”

Yet, the important conversation about coordination of actions and effectiveness of the civil society groups didn’t fall off the table.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a recorded special message to the participants said, “We need all partners, from grassroots to donors working with a common purpose.”

Overall, the fundamental need to recast the issue of healthcare properly didn’t escape the attention of the effervescent mid-career and senior-level professionals, who took turns to speak on how healthcare has been forced into the simplistic left-right politics without broad view of a particular global health issue, whether it’s family planning or HIV/AIDS and why the U.S. support is crucial.

Adeola Akinremi is a policy analyst and communications expert working in international development with deliberate focus on global health policy

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