In run-up to 2030, we’ll need all hands on deck to meet global health goals

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Today more than 75% of deaths worldwide come from noncommunicable diseases—like diabetes, cancer, respiratory, and cardiovascular illnesses. [DVIDSHUB/Flickr]

This month marks two years since the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Harald Nusser looks at how we’ve done so far and how we should proceed so that the private, public and civil society sectors keep up the momentum.

Harald Nusser is the head of Novartis Social Business.

Last year, the European Council and the member state governments said they represented, “a transformative political framework to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development globally [which] balances the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.”

Between now and 2030, the goals will remain the global blueprint for public and private efforts to promote education, employment, social protection, environmental quality, and health.

So, this is a good moment for the world to start asking: how are we doing?

Building on more than a decade of successfully addressing the priority communicable diseases—HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria—and improvements in maternal and child health, we are now making progress towards achieving SDG3, which calls for countries to, “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”

However, challenges posed by these communicable diseases remain. Adding to that challenge is the fact that today more than 75% of deaths worldwide come from noncommunicable diseases—like diabetes, cancer, respiratory, and cardiovascular illnesses.

And NCDs are predicted to make up an even greater share of illness and premature death in the coming years. Better treatments and health systems can help address this but, as the joint statement recognised, the causes of chronic disease also include nutrition, chemical pollution and poor air quality. As a result, they aim to pursue a ‘health in all policies’ approach in development cooperation.

Even while communities are expected to face a greater array of health threats than in the past, key health services will remain out of reach for many. A joint analysis by the World Health Organisation and World Bank shows that 400 million people still lack access to essential health services.

So perhaps it’s unsurprising: Of the estimated $270 billion annually projected to be needed from UN members and private partners for achieving the SDGs, up to 75% would, according to some projections, go toward health systems. This is a tremendous fiscal burden.

To give an idea, EU institutions spent under a billion dollars on global health in 2015. Development aid can only address a fraction of this gap: most must come from governments in lower-income countries deciding to spend more on health, and through innovative models developed with businesses through public-private partnerships.

To solve these challenges, we need to dramatically rethink what healthcare systems are designed to do and seek integrated solutions. This is especially true in developing countries, which are largely ill-prepared to manage the dual burden of communicable and noncommunicable disease.

Rather than primarily addressing acute diseases, we need to reimagine healthcare systems to support people’s lifelong, complex health needs through all stages of life. This means equipping healthcare providers with the knowledge and institutional support to provide quality services along a full continuum of care—including a much greater focus on disease prevention and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.

Patients need to be able to conveniently access a full range of affordable, quality health and wellness services, information and support.

Fortunately, the benefits of more integrated, people-centred healthcare systems will outweigh the costs. According to a joint analysis by the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum, the world’s poorest countries could deliver a robust package of “best buys” for preventing and treating NCDs for less than $1 per person annually.

It’s no secret that in low- and middle-income countries today, healthcare systems are highly fragmented, dominated by operations that were built over the last few decades to advance progress against individual diseases.

To be sure, these efforts have injected sorely-needed resources and strengthened the capacity of healthcare systems in the poorest countries. In doing so, they have laid the foundation for the healthcare systems of the future.

On this foundation, it is now essential to build new models of healthcare systems that proactively nurture the wellness of populations. One of Europe’s great gifts to the world were the first large, national universal healthcare systems. If the benefits of these systems are to be reproduced in emerging economies, we need new ways of thinking about them and paying for them.

With innovation and partnership, success is possible. During the World Economic Forum, my company, Novartis, Abraaj and Philips, will host a roundtable discussion on new blended financing partnerships to unlock investment in global health.

Specific focus will be given to identifying public-private approaches that will stimulate blended investments and establish business models to ensure the availability of sustainable financing and resources.

It’s crucial that public, private and civil society sectors have the tools and platforms needed to collaborate effectively. Meanwhile, we’ll need to increase focus on the world’s poorest communities. Of course, it’s also crucial to keep up the momentum and unlock new investment to accomplish the mission.

The year 2030 is just over a decade away.

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