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Five Resolutions to Make 2015 a Game-changing Year for Global Health

23/01/2015 10:15 GMT | Updated 24/03/2015 09:59 GMT

The new year could and should be a seminal 12 months for global health and development: as Kathy Calvin, president of the United Nations Foundation, blogged earlier this month, 2015 "can be a year for the history books".

Formed in 2000 to create a blueprint for tackling poverty, hunger and disease, the Millennium Development Goals draw to a close this year. This provides a chance to reflect and build upon their achievements, and turn attentions to securing development for the long term.

September will see the creation of a new set of 'sustainable development goals' with the aim of creating a world that is fair, equitable and inclusive for future generations. This is exciting, albeit hugely ambitious. It means that whether we're in business, government or civil society, we've all got an opportunity to help people live healthier and more prosperous lives for good.

Nobody can yet comprehend the legacy that the current Ebola outbreak will leave. But that should galvanise us into action - it shows why 2015 must be the year to strengthen health systems and support innovative solutions that secure healthier lives and livelihoods.

So what are the five resolutions to help ensure 2015 is a game-changing year for global health?

Recognise there is no wealth without health

The Millennium Development Goals rightly focused minds on tackling entrenched problems compromising health and wellbeing. This enabled targeted action that made real inroads against these challenges.

But the sustainable development agenda will need to think more laterally if we are to untie the complex web of interlinked factors trapping people in poverty and ill health. Communities can only thrive if their people are healthy and productive and the new goals should reflect this. Investing in health should over time strengthen countries' economic development. That provides a better environment for all of us so we all have a role to play in making this a reality.

Swell the ranks of frontline health workers

Frontline health workers are the backbone of resilient, responsive health systems but they are too scarce. As the Ebola outbreak illustrated, there is a pressing need to strengthen health systems and build trust in them. This means having clinics and hospitals in the right places with strong relationships between primary and secondary care; robust supply chains that ensure a reliable flow of medicines; and more skilled health workers.

This should enable health systems to better manage everyday healthcare challenges and to have stronger procedures in place for preventing and controlling outbreaks when they do happen. So we need to find innovative ways to get more feet on the ground. Could other healthcare companies consider reinvesting a portion of their profits in developing countries to strengthen health systems and train health workers? What's more, we need to consider how patients can access these systems without falling into financial hardship as a result. How can companies, governments and NGOs work together to advance 'universal health coverage'? These are all questions for 2015.

Act now on NCDs

There is a powerful parallel between the history of HIV/AIDs in Africa and the unfolding threat of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) - such as cancer and diabetes. The danger is clear and while some important steps have been taken, relatively little is happening to contain it. Now is the time to invest in prevention to save suffering - and high treatment costs - further down the line. Be it in Angola or Nigeria, cities are developing fast - but not always with green spaces or amenities for keeping fit. At the same time, the middle class is growing - bringing with it lifestyle changes that are not always healthy. 2015 is the year to take bold steps to change this - investing in research and development on NCDs in Africa; educating a generation on healthy life choices; and keeping our cities green - could Africa make cycling as safe and cool as the Dutch have done?!

Take bright ideas beyond the local

There is a strong pipeline of bright ideas in global health - especially coming from less developed countries. Conceived and driven from the grassroots, these ideas are tailored to a community's particular challenges and opportunities.

But these ideas have applications elsewhere and we need to make 2015 the year in which we take them beyond the local. A low-cost, low-tech device developed in Malawi to help babies with breathing difficulties has equal relevance in developed countries as it does in resource-poor settings.

These ideas need support - through financing mechanisms, mentoring and profile-raising - to help scale up and translate into other settings.

Don't get complacent

We can't forget progress already made - or get complacent. Millions more children are now surviving to see their fifth birthday; deaths from malaria have almost halved in the last 15 years. But to maintain the momentum, we must keep innovating - finding new medicines, vaccines and other interventions; and make sure they reach those who need them most.

This has the potential to be an exciting and formative year for health and development. If different sectors work together to take thoughtful, tangible actions, we can fulfil this promise.