Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Advance Global Health: Achieve the MDG's

The Millenium Development Goals (MDG's) are 8 time bound goals agreed upon by member states of the United Nations (UN) back in 2000 that, if achieved, would mean an end to extreme poverty by 2015. These goals are well off track. Easily preventable diseases like diarrhoea, pneumonia & malaria continue to run rampant in children under age 5, meaning that MDG 4, 'reduce child mortality by 2/3 by 2015' is startlingly behind and yet governments seem to be lethargic in their movements to change that.

Hence, the 63rd Annual United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) conference was entitled "Advance Global Health: Achieve the MDG's." The conference sought to draw representatives from hundreds of international Non-Government Organisations (NGO's) together in Melbourne in August 2010 to devise how we're going to make poverty history

I was lucky enough to be chosen as a one of the youth delegates representing World Vision and eagerly jumped on the plane from Adelaide to Melbourne brimming with excitement about the groundbreaking steps we were going to collectively take toward 'advancing global health'. What I got, was a reality check.

I am not naive. At least I thought I wasn't. I know that there are no quick fixes to poverty. I know that there are many powerful forces that oppose the liberation the world's poorest people and I know that if it were an easy task, it would have been done by now. I thought this conference could have been an opportunity to spotlight the MDG's on a global scale and this was something I was so humbled and excited to be a part of but there, sitting in that room among 2000 people who share my desperation to see an end to poverty, I felt numb. Time and again people were stepping up to the microphone during question times to push their own personal agendas, seemingly ignorant of the fact that we were there to tackle the bigger picture - even keynote speakers deviated from the topic at hand. The lack of urgency experienced throughout the entire conference was disturbing... devastating even.

Don't get me wrong - the caliber of the delegates was amazing. I was so humbled to be in the presence of people who quietly go about their daily lives in deserts, jungles and everywhere in between championing equality, freedom and human rights on behalf of those who have been stripped of all three. Whether it be in a home for AIDS orphans in Kenya; nuns attending to the sick in the highlands of PNG or community health workers in the red centre of Australia, these people are the unsung heroes of humanity as they work tirelessly and selflessly for what they believe is just. Their actions are transforming lives everyday and it was incredible to hear their stories. Yet there seemed to be a common thread in all of these stories - a thread that Tim Costello identified in the 3rd Roundtable session.

"I know the purists among you with disagree with me when I say this, but I believe that representatives from the private sector should be here in the thick of these discussions around advancing global health."

NGO's & Governments more often than not form the framework for the discourse of advancing global health but when we neglect to include key private sector stakeholders that are responsible for a huge amount of anguish, we neglect to address the bigger picture. When pharmaceutical & mining companies are monopolising on much needed resources purely for their own gain, where does that leave the world's poor? They lay at the absolute mercy of a consortium of money hungry extortionists and paralyzed halfway to the finish line. When mining companies are ripping through areas of once fertile agricultural land, leaving only destruction in their wake and countless children are dying from AIDS simply because pharmaceutical companies jack up the prices of anti-retroviral treatment because they realise that desperate people are a profitable commodity, one has to question the humanity of these faceless giants. What I want to know is, who is holding these companies accountable? And how have they been able to get away with such atrocities for so long?

My colleagues and me with Dr Claudio "Rocks my World"
One man that particularly captured my attention was Dr Claudio Shuftan from the People's Health Movement (PHM). Dr Shuftan stunned UNDPI officials when he deviated from the pre-rehearsed Roundtable discussion, claiming that without a Human Rights approach the MDG's were not going to achieve their objectives. Whilst considered a bit of a radical by some of his peers, he was right in saying that the focus we need moreso than equality is equity. The MDG's, as they stand, only set quantifiable requirements for developing nations without placing any onus on OECD countries to set quantifiable goals for developing accountability and equity - particularly in regards to fairer trade and reducing consumption. It was so refreshing to hear someone speaking with passion and actually stirring the pot and challenging some of the ideas being put forward and bucking the UN custom of playing it safe.

"As we endure this fight, we must continue to ask ourselves: how great is our hope?" - Chris Varney

Despite the fact that I found the UNDPI/NGO conference frustrating for the most part, I remain optimistic that the global health situation isn't hopeless. My hope lies in the diligence and strength of those NGO leaders whose work we celebrated over course of the conference. My hope lies in a World Vision health worker named Sokha, whose commitment to training women in her Cambodian village is willingly privileged over every other aspect of her life. My hope lies in the passion of the youth I meet on a day to day basis who's cries for a better world refuse to be drowned out. With every one of our small victories comes a downpour of hope.

The declaration that was drafted and unanimously agreed upon last month in Melbourne is now, as I write, being presented to the member states of the UN in New York. Ban Ki-Moon, Barrack Obama & K-Rudd are probably perusing it over a cuppa right now...

No comments:

Post a Comment