We must commit to strengthening health systems, as well as maintaining efforts towards eradicating communicable diseases, writes Linda McAvan.
Linda McAvan is a British Labour MEP for Yorkshire and The Humber and Chairperson of the Development Committee (DEVE).
The Council conclusions being agreed upon today on the post-2015 sustainable development framework present a unique opportunity to reflect on key priorities and offer a real chance to take the all-important steps towards realising the right to health for all. It is fitting that today also marks the first Universal Health Coverage Day, where a global coalition of over 400 NGOs, co-partnered by Action for Global Health, is calling for health to be a cornerstone of the sustainable development agenda.
Billions remain excluded from being able to fully participate in society, and the EU must scale up its efforts to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable. We have an opportune moment to craft actionable development plans to tackle poverty and reinforce commitments, and we must reinforce our commitments to ensure that we continue the work of the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals.
Honouring commitments for a better future
The Ebola crisis has highlighted the absolute necessity to invest in public health systems. There is no doubt that had Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone had stronger health systems, they would have been better able to contain the disease. If we are to avoid further crises, both the European Parliament and the European Commission – with the new Commissioner Mimica in place – must be on board. They need to urgently ensure the 20% benchmark for basic social services, including health and education, is respected in EU programmes on the ground. It is imperative that European citizens know their representatives are monitoring where the money is being spent and that it is best targeted in health and education, as well as other areas. Delivering on promises requires engaging the people and mobilising action.
Ensuring that the role of our committee is maintained and that we communicate this role outside of the institutions is my commitment as Chair of the European Parliament (EP) Development committee. The 20% benchmark for basic social services, including health and education, was a key priority of the European Parliament when the text for the new Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) was negotiated with member states last year.
Given the overwhelming urgency of the Ebola outbreak, the EP Development Committee is working on this as a priority, through discussions at committee level and the Programme for Action on Global Health. The report looks at the long-term lessons, including the strengthening of health systems needed to prevent future crises. Through focusing on improving the impact of EU aid on global health, strengthening health system financing and enhancing access to medicines, we can pressure the new Commissioner to take action today.
The post-2015 global development framework discussions act as a strong focal point for our work and our influence as a committee. Helping to ensure that a country has strong health and education systems is an essential component of any credible strategy for poverty reduction. That is why these sectors should continually be prioritised, along with other complementary actions. The Millennium Development Goals on education and health have helped make progress but we have failed to reach the target. Therefore, it is vital that we redouble our efforts to ensure more is done in these areas as part of the post-2015 agenda.
The European Parliament resolution on the EU and the global development framework after 2015 includes a human rights-based approach, yet my advice to the council would be that a more ambitious approach should be included since it is integral to confronting the issues of poverty, social exclusion and inequality.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of prioritising health within the post-2015 agenda which is why the debates occurring today are so vital. Health is a crucial element of sustainable development and we must focus on promoting equitable and sustainable universal health coverage in the new global framework. Up to 6.6 million children die from preventable causes each year. It is essential that we place child and maternal health at the forefront of the health agenda, as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights.
In addition to ensuring health is placed firmly in the new global framework, and responding to the Ebola crisis, other areas of our work inevitably include a strong health dimension. Effective EU responses to other humanitarian crises in parts of the Middle East and Africa are needed more than ever, and these should include work on health and health care in crisis. The committee needs to also play an active role in the development of a new Gender Action Plan in 2015. Safe access to health facilities for girls and women must be an integral part of a reinvigorated action plan for gender equality and empowerment. For this, Civil Society participation is essential. Civil Society Organisations can also highlight the importance of global health to MEPs by providing clear information and arguments. They can play a constructive role by raising awareness of on key issues and how MEPs might be able to contribute to solutions. Galvanising public opinion in favour of political action on this, and related issues, is vital if they are to rise up the agenda.
We must commit to strengthening health systems, as well as maintaining efforts towards eradicating communicable diseases. To this end, the protection of marginalised and vulnerable groups is critical. We must leave no-one behind. Health is fundamental to poverty eradication and pivotal to tackling inequities across developing nations. We will work as a committee to ensure our position is reflected as far as possible.
Being healthy is about being able to live out a full and active life. Where health is lacking, people are unable to reach their potential, which is why illness and disease are so disheartening. Taking action to promote health has long been of particular importance to me in my work as an MEP, and I hope this will continue to be a priority for my colleagues in the EP Development Committee in the years to come. It is not only about ensuring that everyone, everywhere has the right to health but also making progress towards Universal Health Coverage, which will accelerate social and economic growth, fundamental to sustainable development.