Guest contributor Billie-Jean Nieuwenhuys is PATH’s global advocacy officer, based in Geneva.
The year 2015 is etched in the minds of those of us who work in global health. It’s our deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight targets set in 2000 that move us toward the elimination of extreme poverty. The MDGs established the framework around which much of our work has been focused for more than a decade. They serve as a constant reminder of how far we have come—and how much further we must go.
It’s clear we’ve made great progress. The number of children under five years old who die each year has declined from 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. During that same period, maternal deaths decreased by 47 percent. Deaths from infectious diseases have also declined. Still, in these and other areas, we’re falling short of our goals.
Innovation and evidence
We can’t lose the momentum created by the MDGs, and we must continue to work toward the 2015 targets. But we must also look beyond 2015 to create a new framework to supplement—not replace—the MDGs.
At PATH, we’ve developed recommendations to help shape the debate. We’re guided by two principles: that innovation in product development and delivery leads to improved access to high-quality health services and improved health, and that evidence must drive global health programs.
New technology, stronger health systems
By prioritizing innovation in technology and health systems, we can produce and deliver desperately needed products when and where they are needed most, thus realizing the greatest positive impact. As a result, we recommend prioritizing the development and delivery of new products where they are needed.
At the same time, we suggest strengthening health systems to promote integration across health areas. Stronger systems also encourage innovative approaches to program management and product delivery, such as more effective vaccine delivery systems or integrated services for the two leading killers of children, pneumonia and diarrheal disease.
Better data for decision-making
To ensure that health resources are allocated effectively, we must use data to inform product development, policy planning, and the prioritization of health interventions. Improving health information systems, which are fragmented and cumbersome in many countries, will help provide answers to questions that health workers and government officials grapple with daily, such as how many people are sick and how many are already receiving treatment. We recommend prioritizing the improvement of monitoring and evaluation to support decision-making based on evidence.
A lack of robust data, particularly from low-income countries, undermines our ability to tailor services according to need. We believe that a focus on improving the collection, reliability, and availability of data—including data gathered at levels below national—will increase accountability for service delivery from both governments and service providers. This will be essential to ensuring progress toward our health goals.
Here’s to more progress
The MDGs formalized the link between health and development, and they have been instrumental in our ability to achieve unprecedented global health and development gains. But there is still much work to be done. We’re hopeful that the next development agenda will include important health objectives to move us toward a world where extreme poverty is a thing of the past and health is in reach for everyone.