Research for Health must stay at the heart of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Framework

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SPEED READ

– Work on outlining the post-2015 development agenda is coming to an end. The UN 68th General Assembly will meet in New York in September to define a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

– “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages,” reads proposed SDG 3. However, where does research for health stand in the new framework’s draft?

– To make sure that research, development, and delivery of new and improved health tools are kept at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda, the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) teamed up with the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) to address an appeal to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Member States of the UN.

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Looking beyond 2015

While the current Millennium Development Goals expire next year, work on outlining the post-2015 development agenda is brewing up. The UN 68th General Assembly will meet in New York in September to define a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to focus on in the 15 years to come. The new “Sustainable Development Framework 2015-2030” is the result of a lengthy process. In particular, the proposal on SDGs was prepared by a 30-member Open Working Group (OWG), established under mandate by the Rio+20 Outcome document in June 2012. The OWG final report lays out some 169 targets spread across 17 SDGs that range from ending poverty in all its forms everywhere to strengthening the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

Despite the considerable efforts deployed so far and the undeniable progress done in the process of arriving at this new post-2015 framework, however, many observers fear that to ensure “healthy lives at all ages”, one of the key goals currently envisioned in the development framework, a more explicit and full support to health research and related policies and capacity building will be needed in the final discussion.

To make sure that research, development, and delivery of new and improved health tools are kept at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda, COHRED teamed up with GHTC and IAVI to address an appeal to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Member States of the UN.

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The appeal

We, the below signatory organizations request that the UN fully supports in the post-2015 SDG-Framework the research, development, and delivery of new and improved medicines, vaccines, and other health tools for the diseases and health conditions that predominantly affect low- and middle-income countries as well as marginalized, vulnerable populations globally.

Thanks to the leadership of the UN and investments by Member States, the current Millennium Development Goals have made major contributions to improving the health and lives of millions of people around the world. A sustained focus on some of the greatest global health challenges has led to enormous progress in many areas, including significant improvements in the development and delivery of health tools such as drugs to treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria. Efforts to tackle diseases have also helped underpin progress in other important areas, such as gender equality, child mortality, and maternal health. Millions of lives have been saved.

However, major challenges remain, and the health burden imposed by poverty remains far too high. In this context, it is essential that the post-2015 development agenda retains a strong focus on eliminating poverty-related diseases and conditions. The post-2015 agenda must build on previous achievements to ensure that healthy lives and access to health services can be achieved in an equitable and sustainable way, leaving no one behind. This means ensuring universal access to proven health interventions. But it also means developing and delivering new health technologies which can help address the shortcomings of existing interventions and sustainably reduce morbidity and mortality over the longer term. This will require continued support for the research, development, and delivery of new tools to combat major epidemics like HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria, as well as other poverty-related diseases and conditions ranging from neglected tropical diseases to reproductive, maternal, and child health. Continuous investment of human and financial resources in science, technology, and innovation is essential to achieve both economic and social development for all.

We are encouraged by the current inclusion of the need to support the development of new medicines and vaccines for diseases particularly affecting developing countries in the Zero Draft document of the Sustainable Development Goals. Concern remains, however, about the omission of medical devices and diagnostics which also contribute to improving health outcomes, the lack of clarity on how this effort will be funded, and how supporting policies, incentives, capacity building, collaboration, and knowledge and technology sharing will be defined and implemented.

As organizations working to save lives and improve health, we urge you to commit explicit and full support to health research and related policies and capacity building as a core component of a new, post-2015 agenda for equitable health and sustainable development for all. We ask that you press Member States to offer similar support, and to formally assess how to measure progress towards this goal, and how to fully and sustainably finance and enable the research, development, and delivery of essential new and improved health tools.

PATHMVI

A bigger role for science

It is not only the commitment to research for health that needs to be reinforced. Apparently, the recommended SDGs contain several other science-related issues that require attention. According to a recent SciDev.Net article, “[m]any of the quantified targets based on scientific evidence that appeared in earlier documents that laid out the SDGs have been replaced by blanks or removed entirely in the final document”. In other words, science experts fear that by approving a final resolution with vaguely indicated targets will permit politicians to adjust following efforts on the basis of economic convenience rather than scientific evidence. “For example, in April, possible climate change targets included an explicit two degrees Celsius limit, and dates for when carbon emissions should be arrested and reduced. The current outcome document is silent on these issues,” continues the SciDev.Net article.

 Carel IJsselmuiden