At main UN economic and social body, former US President Clinton calls for partnerships to boost health

Former US President Bill Clinton addresses the UN Economic and Social Council Partnerships Forum. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

28 May 2015 – As the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) met to discuss the role of partnerships in achieving the Post-2015 development agenda, the focus fell on the recent response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the need to work together to boost capacity in healthcare systems.

Martin Sajdik, President of the Council, opened the meeting by stressing the importance of partnerships, especially in the context of the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the post-2015 development agenda and he introduced a keynote speaker, in Bill Clinton, the former President of the United States, who he said was “truly outstanding” and who would discuss health partnerships, especially for strengthening health systems.

In an opening keynote address to the ECOSOC Partnership Forum, Mr. Clinton described the huge impact of Ebola on West Africa and the huge effort made by many stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations, international organizations and the private sector, in its aftermath. During a recent visit to the region, he said he heard the same call again and again: “Help us build our health systems.”

Countries in the region were requesting funds to build better, stronger health systems through multi-year plans. If the donor community set aside 15 per cent of relief funds over a three- to seven-year span to build up those systems, “we wouldn’t have to worry about these problems,” he said, urging donor nations to help strengthen health sectors, which would save money in the long-run and make nations more self-sufficient.

“They have to have health systems or we’ll be back here four or five years from now – not in these countries but in some other countries,” said Mr. Clinton. “It is the most economically sensible thing to do.”

He said the biggest struggle of the 21st century world is the battle between inclusion and exclusion, noting that partnerships are needed to achieve both peace and development objectives.

He described a Clinton Health Initiative programme launched in cooperation with the Rwandan Government and other partners, which aimed at better resourcing and building up the country’s health systems. He said that work such as the project he described in Rwanda should be done everywhere.

He called on members to “exalt” partnerships, to bring together partners that would not traditionally have worked together, and to “tell people what we’re doing” in order to secure the necessary funding. Long-term investments and broad-based partnerships were critical.

Jan Eliasson, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, said the unprecedented global health crisis that was the Ebola outbreak was part of a series of challenges contributing to the most challenging period since the creation of the UN.

“One thing is clear: No single entity – no single nation or organization, can solve the problems alone,” he said. “I believe a new model for problem solving is required in today’s world. We need to put the problems at the centre and mobilize all actors to achieve effective change. We have to move from the vertical – ‘silo’ – approach to the horizontal, crosscutting one.”

He pointed to the global response to Ebola and the impact of the collective contributions of the international community but stressed that the priority remained to “get to zero cases and to stay there.”

All across the development agenda that would be finalized in meetings across the UN system in Addis Ababa, New York and Paris this year, partnerships would become more and more vital and he said that they would work only if they were transparent, inclusive and accountable and in line with the values and principles of the United Nations.

Mr. Sajdik also used his speech to emphasize the need for fresh thinking and even more new ideas on how best to harness the broadest range of actors in support of the new development objectives.

“We know when going forward we will need to ensure strong coherence and clear, equally applicable standards on reporting,” he said. “Earlier this year, in February, the Economic and Social Council undertook a preliminary discussion of these issues, and our Forum will build on that discussion today.”

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