THE BLOG
10/02/2016 07:18 GMT | Updated 10/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Global Health: Four Ways to Turn Conversation Into Action in 2016

How do you turn big ideas into a reality? That's one of the real challenges faced by anyone working in global health and development in 2016.

Last year was an exciting one - we saw great progress against the Millennium Development Goals, but there's much more work to do and the United Nations agreed to 17 new Global Goals for Sustainable Development. These set out ambitious aims to ensure healthy lives, end extreme poverty and fight inequality. All of us - from individuals to businesses - have a stake in helping to reach these targets. We all stand to benefit from having healthier, more prosperous communities.

So what are four ways to get going on the Global Goals in 2016?

Reach more people with healthcare

More than ever, we need different business models that help us to reach more people with medicines, vaccines and consumer healthcare products. There are innovative approaches such as tiered pricing, which asks countries to pay a fair amount depending on how far along the development journey they are. But we also need to consider how to physically reach people. How can we strengthen supply chains, even in the most challenging areas? That might mean working with local businesses or pharmacists to help get medicines into communities that need them most.

Key to reaching more people is 'Universal Health Coverage' - or UHC. This is the idea that everyone should receive the quality health services they need without experiencing financial hardship as a result. As Africa's emerging middle class becomes more concerned with equity, UHC could gain traction this year. Governments are custodians of their nations' health needs: we're likely to see more attention paid to how they can devise sustainable ways of financing healthcare - through prioritising health in policies and budgets and considering innovative health insurance models that bring more people into the fold. Other sectors - like business - also have an important part to play in helping to make UHC a reality.

Make health systems stronger

The devastating Ebola epidemic was a sobering reminder of how vulnerable health systems are. While Ebola might be receding, more resources and focus are needed now to rebuild health systems and bolster them against future crises. One of the most important things is getting more health workers on the ground. This can be done through harnessing collaboration between governments, business and NGOs to help recruit, train and support health workers. One model is GSK reinvesting 20% of its profits from the Least Developed Countries back into supporting health worker training in those areas - 40,000 health workers have been trained since 2009. As well as feet on the ground, we also need to capitalise upon technology - using mobile phones for example to speed up diagnosis, prevention and treatment.

Maintain momentum against malaria

With a shiny new set of global development targets, it could be easy to forget the progress already made and how important it is to keep up the momentum against neglected tropical diseases and malaria. Since 2000, deaths from malaria have more than halved thanks to better access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment. But this progress is fragile, and the disease still claims nearly 500,000 lives a year. So we need to keep up the fight against malaria, making sure that communities have access to the tools already at our disposal and relentlessly searching for new weapons to add to our arsenal against malaria. Just last month, UK Chancellor George Osborne, together with Bill Gates, announced a £3 billion commitment over the next five years to ramp up efforts to fight malaria. This is a really exciting step and shows we can maintain momentum against this disease.

Find new ways to keep mums and babies healthy

Every day, 800 women die due to complications related to pregnancy. Three-quarters of newborn deaths occur in the first week of life. There are many great ideas in the pipeline to help protect mothers and babies, but they can grind to a halt due to a dearth of resources. Getting these ideas from acorns to oak trees is a priority. One approach is an 'Innovation Marketplace' being created by the Every Woman Every Child Innovation Working Group. Rather than acting as a source of funding itself, the marketplace will primarily be a forum for connecting innovators, private investors and national resources. Making the innovation pathway more transparent is something we could all learn from.

Turning ideas into reality takes hard work, money and perseverance. But innovation is essential to achieving the Global Goals. These aims are unlikely to be achieved with the tools currently at our disposal. Fresh approaches, from science and technology to health systems and business models, need to be scaled up if 'sustainable development' is to become more than a soundbite. Let's check back in at the end of 2016 and see how we're getting on!