In our world of ever changing health risks and increasing globalisation, there has never been a more pressing need for health policy that transcends national borders and addresses issues on a global level. From international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) to factions such as Medcins Sans Frontières, there is a complex arena of actors on the global health scene that I’m going to attempt to decipher!
So who’s who? If you have been to any of our Medsin events you’ll have heard talk of ‘Big Pharma’, the UN, NGOs …but who are these organisations and what do they stand for? Lets start with the United Nations (UN), an international organisation born out of the trauma of the Second World War. The vision: ensure international peace and security. The UN was designed as a means to resolve disputes amongst nations, promote international cooperation and draw up policies to improve lives across the globe.
In 2000 the UN set out eight millennium development goals (MDGs), targeting issues ranging from child mortality to diseases such as HIV/AIDS. This global agenda has been called ‘the most successful anti-poverty movement in history’. Yet despite some of the MDGs being achieved by the target date of 2015, such as halving the number of people living in abject poverty, other goals were not as successfully tackled. Reducing maternal mortality has been reduced by nearly half, but not quite the two-thirds reduction that was aimed for. So this year new goals have been announced: the sustainable development goals (SDGs). By 2030, these 17 new goals hope to combat issues ranging from the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger to inequality among countries.
A variety of organisations are linked to the UN, as part of the ‘UN family’. Out of these, the World Health Organisation is the authority specific to the coordination of international public health. It was founded with the aim of addressing the health needs of all people through supporting governments protect the health of their populations. One of their greatest achievements has no doubt been the eradication of smallpox in 1979. As well as conducting global immunisation programmes, the WHO produces health guidelines and works to promote health research, all with the aim of achieving the “highest attainable standard of health” for every human being. Nevertheless with limited funds and accusations of responding slowly in emergencies such as in the Ebola outbreak last year, the WHO is not without its criticisms.
In addition to the WHO, other agencies working with the UN on the global health scene include the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organisation (WTO). Whilst the World Bank and IMF focus predominantly on reducing poverty by providing countries with financial assistance, the WTO focusses on trade regulation between countries. Yet global health governance extends beyond the workings of the United Nations, with an increasing plurality of actors year on year. My next post will discuss the roles of national governments, non-governmental organisations as well as public private partnerships to round off this overview of ‘whos who’ in global health!