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31 March 2011: speech to the Health is Global Forum

  • Last modified date:
    1 April 2011

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It’s now three years since Health is Global was published, nine months since the new Government was elected.

So where are we today?

Well, I think we have taken some steps forward.

A UK-led resolution on pneumonia … A global alcohol strategy … A new code of practice on recruiting health professionals … all of them were highlights from last year’s World Health Assembly.

In September, we also signed a major agreement with the Chinese government on information exchange and co-operation covering health system reform, climate change and development.

But progress hasn’t been as swift or decisive as any of us would have like.

Today is about changing that.

It’s about releasing the handbrake and making up some ground. To fulfil the promise set out in Health is Global.

Now at this stage, my original notes talked about “confirming the Government’s commitment to global health”.

But let me ask the question many of you might be thinking.

How credible is that commitment? How credible can it be given everything else on the government’s agenda at the moment?

Can we compete with the difficulties at home and abroad … a messy financial situation … a painful programme of deficit reduction, a domestic health and social care system facing its own stiff challenges.

As a Government, are we really serious about this?

Well, Stephen and I, our ministerial colleagues, and the whole cabinet, all believe the same thing.

Better global health isn’t just a noble aspiration or an end in itself.

It’s vital for pursuing our national interests.

Idealism combines with pragmatism to push this high up the agenda.

The swine flu pandemic, still fresh in the memory, shows we must always be looking at new ways to work across borders to guard against threats to public health.

The looming deadline for the Millennium Development Goals is a clear duty to press on with reducing infant mortality and deaths from HIV, TB and malaria in the developing world.

And the health challenges we face in our own country … an ageing population … rising health costs … a growing tide of lifestyle disease … these are shared international concerns.

Other countries are in exactly the same boat. And the more we connect, the more we can learn from each other about how to deal with them.

And let’s not forget the other reason.

As a former US president once said, “it’s the economy, stupid.”

Last week, the Chancellor made it clear that supporting the life sciences is a key to sustained domestic economic growth.

With three trillion dollars invested in healthcare systems each year, it pays to be a major player on the global scene.

We need to present the UK as a centre of excellence for healthcare and research – and that means looking outwards, not inwards.

So yes, the commitment is there. It’s there one hundred per cent.

But that’s not to say there aren’t challenges. We don’t have a limitless budget. We don’t have limitless resources to draw upon.

So this isn’t going to be about spending more, but spending better. Working across Government. Seeing the connections. Working with our partners at home and abroad to make the progress we all want to see.

It also means being extremely clear about what we are trying to achieve. Global health is a very broad church – a wide agenda. We need to set some tangible measures to direct our efforts and marshal our resources.

That’s what the new Outcomes Framework we’re publishing today is all about.

Now Kathryn [Tyson] will talk you through the finer detail a little later.

But I just want to say this. The framework isn’t a departure or change of direction. It’s entirely consistent, entirely complementary to the vision in the original strategy. It’s about improving the focus without losing the ambition.

So if you think of Health is Global as a latté, then the Outcomes Framework is really the espresso shot – and don’t we all need that at this time of the day!

By distilling the strategy, by concentrating people’s minds on what matters, we can make the resources we have count for more.

I believe this can be the catalyst for some very important developments over the next six to twelve months.

So what’s my personal focus? What am I going to do?

Well, I’ll be looking carefully at what we can do to tackle non-communicable diseases in the run up to the UN high level meeting in September.

I’m particularly interested in what comes out of the panel discussion on this later today.

And, of course, the World Health Assembly in May is clearly another key moment for global health – and I’m keen to draw in your thoughts and ideas for that in the weeks ahead.

Before I hand over to Stephen [O’Brien] to give the DfID perspective, let me make an obvious point.

We can put what we like in documents and statements.

I can stand here and say what I like.

What matters ultimately is what we do, together, to change things.

Your role – as our conscience; as the champions and cheerleaders for progress – is vital.

Keep us on our toes. Engage constructively. Help us win the public argument. Keep giving us the ideas and insights to feed into international discussions.

Because there are some big opportunities ahead of us.

And if we can build those strong relationships and secure that flow of ideas, then I’m certain we can achieve great things in the years ahead.

So thank you all for being here, thank you for everything you do – and let me now hand over to Stephen.

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