UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark has called for more broad, innovative research and partnerships to achieve health goals worldwide, noting that health is a key element and indicator in all areas of development.
In a speech at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Clark said, “Development and health practitioners share the same goals of tackling inequality and improving the well-being of individuals and communities, yet they often lack the common language or approaches to find solutions together. This gap is artificial, to be bridged through dialogue and inter-institutional partnerships.”
“Global financial hardship has elevated the concerns of efficiency and value for money. Without new partnerships and innovative joint initiatives, there is a risk that human development progress will stall.”
According to her, research must more systematically take into account a broad range of factors - environment, policy, governance, urbanisation, housing, employment, and education - in the study of health and well-being. This, she said, “can help motivate action at this level, rather than only focusing at addressing symptoms once diseases occur.”
“Innovative intervention studies can provide evidence as to which solutions work, and how to use new technologies to further better health outcomes."
Promising joint initiatives include a pilot project by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Telecommunication Union (ITU), now testing a system through which health care guidance is offered via text messaging to people managing non-communicable diseases in Africa.
They also include the Clinton Foundation’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which aims to simultaneously save the lives of women and children exposed to indoor air pollution, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat climate change.
“Better health is a gateway to development progress. UNDP’s core mandate of helping countries tackle poverty, promote gender equality, and achieve sustainable human development is highly relevant to lifting health status, she said. “That is because the conditions in which people live and work impact their well-being. Disparities in health outcomes tend to mirror inequalities and inequities in society more broadly.”
“The reverse is also true: Advancing better health is a gateway to development progress, lifting economies and societies. In Asia, for example, between 30 and 50 per cent of economic growth from 1965-90 has been attributed to improvements in reproductive health and lower infant and child mortality. …Well-nourished, healthy children are better able to learn. Well-nourished, healthy adults will lead more productive lives, and enjoy a better chance of attaining overall well-being.”
“Good health is built on broad foundations, and is about rather more than the absence of illness,” she said. “The right to health has been enshrined in global and regional human rights treaties, such as the UN Charter, and in many national Constitutions.”
UNDP’s work to address armed violence and HIV/AIDS, and to help countries recover from devastating crises and conflicts, reflects some of the agency’s most obvious contributions in the area of public health, with broad, long-term consequences: New research shows that trauma and deprivation in early life directly impact lifelong predisposition to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, which can push families into extreme poverty - reversing development gains.
The development agency’s extensive work in anti-corruption and democratic governance also bears directly on public health as well: Citizens in some countries report uniquely high levels of corruption in health care provision, while transparent governments are more likely to effectively regulate production and distribution of safe and effective medications.