Can we combine innovation and solidarity to save lives?
After five years as the Chair of the Executive Board of UNITAID, I am now convinced that we can bring these two concepts together to deliver global public goods to the more than one billion human beings who live in extreme poverty today. I am happy to say today that UNITAID is living, breathing proof of a successful marriage between innovative ideas and global solidarity.
In today's era of complex and often conflicting interests we need innovative ideas to redress major imbalances and ensure a decent living for every single human being. The global gap that exists between the haves and have-nots is no longer sustainable – a child born in the developing world is 25 times more likely to die in the first five years of life than one born in richer countries.
Can innovation help? The benefits of innovation in funding go far beyond public health. Local and international conflicts in the 21st century feed on poverty, hopelessness, and frustration. We can remove much of that hopelessness by boosting the race to meet the Millennium Development Goals with innovative ideas that work.
UNITAID is a laboratory of innovation in several ways: the way it collects funds through innovative financing; by promoting South–South cooperation; by including in its governance structure the UN, governments, private foundations (the Gates Foundation) and civil society; and by spending those funds in novel ways: through market-based interventions that create new markets in developing countries and bring the price of treatments down, thus enabling the treatment of more people for less money.
Innovative financing is about opening the door to new, private players to join the fight against poverty and ill health; it is about leveraging the benefits of market economies. What has been accomplished with air ticket levies and mass tourism could be mirrored tomorrow in other economic sectors, such as communications, the internet, financial transactions, the tobacco industry, etc. These are activities that profit most from economic globalization but paradoxically contribute the least to the financing of global public goods.
We must revisit our approach to global solidarity and harness the wealth of the world by finding new funding instruments. Innovative sources of finance and private sector participation are increasingly emerging as very much part of the solution.
UNITAID also represents the first ever solidarity contribution implemented at a national level but managed by a supranational entity. In that way, it sets a trend that could be followed to tackle other global challenges by a global citizenry: such as hunger, climate change and economic development.
The challenge today is to maintain the momentum of innovation and solidarity in health financing and spending and to invent a new architecture that will encourage not only the globalization of economic growth, but also the globalization of solidarity. New sources of funding and new ways of making the money work are essential today if we are to meet the international community's targets – the Millennium Development Goals – and end senseless suffering.
Chair of the Executive Board, UNITAID