Jul. 25

How Many Lives Can We Save In 500 Days?

by Ray Chambers

The clock is ticking loudly for all of us focused on achieving the MDGs. As the 500 day mark fast approaches on August 18th, followed quickly by the UN General Assembly in September, I find myself thinking about what can still be done to improve the chances of reaching our goals. Three things rise to the top of my list: (1) a financing boost that takes us to the MDG deadline and also lays the foundation for more sustainable funding approaches going forward, (2) securing of commitments by all partners to a targeted number of lives saved and following-through with counting those lives saved (3) identifying ways to maximize existing service delivery platforms to do as much as possible to not “miss opportunities”.

A Financing Boost for Now and the Future
On the financing front, there is a strong feeling among partners and the development community that additional financing for global health must not only have impact now, but it must form the basis for more sustainable funding going forward.  We need to encourage different sectors and high-burden countries themselves to play a bigger role in health financing, and we believe that this is possible. Countries are better equipped than ever before to support internal development, based on strong economies, successful investments in health systems, strong leadership and better cross-border cooperation. We also see the promise of innovative financing, results-based funding, social-impact bonds, matched funds, debt buy-downs, and other non-traditional funding approaches that are proving to be quite effective at driving better health.  With significant leadership from  multilateral funders such as the World Bank, Global Fund, and GAVI and the resolute commitments from governments like the US, Canada, Norway, UK and Sweden, we can count on having the resources – and the vision – needed to save more lives now and going forward.   I look forward to the General Assembly as an “action forcing moment” to give our funding boost that takes us to and through December 2015.

Committing to a “Lives Saved” Approach
Counting lives saved must also be front and center in our final push to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and beyond. The MDGs have derived so much of their power from the quantifiable nature of the targets, which can be hugely useful for planning. This is why we will continually seek to measure progress against the quarterly MDG Acceleration Roadmaps launched earlier this year, to keep track of progress as it occurs in real time.  At its “Acting on the Call” event last month, USAID  focused on a “lives saved” approach as a foundation for its reprogramming in 24 target countries representing 70% of maternal, newborn and child deaths. The fact that its proposed efforts have the potential to save 500,000 lives this year and next is an extraordinarily powerful message of vision and possibility. By tracking and presenting the “lives saved” impact of our work, we improve our ability to rally our most important constituents: funders, media, advocates and staff.

Ensuring There Are No “Missed Opportunities”
Finally, with so little time left to execute programs in the field to achieve the MDGs, we must seize opportunities where we find them and break down the walls often caused by funding streams and fault-lines between organizations.  Many of the world’s most vulnerable children are already being reached through a variety of outreach, supplemental and community-based health services, including child health weeks, supplemental immunization activities and seasonal malaria chemoprophylaxis (which will systematically deliver preventive drugs to the most vulnerable children at risk of malaria). Taking full advantage of these existing delivery channels represents one of the best available ways to prevent child death.  We can no longer afford to miss opportunities. I encourage all of us to look hard at opportunities for smart integration and to maximize the carrying capacity of ongoing efforts.  As World Bank President Jim Kim, Paul Farmer, and Michael Porter and noted in the Lancet last September, “the biggest obstacle facing global health is a failure of delivery” and an essential approach to creating this value is through “shared delivery infrastructure.” Not only is this key accelerant for the MDGs, but is at the core of health-systems development for years to come.

Let’s approach the remaining 500 days fully aware of how our hard work can add up to millions of precious lives, and bring our ambitious goals closer than ever to the finish line.

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