“Widening the scope of Global Health Research – looking beyond G7 and G20”

Speech by the State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research Dr. Georg Schütte on the occasion of the World Health Summit, Session “Health policy in the G7/G20”, Berlin

Georg Schütte, Staatssekretär im Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, während seiner Rede im Rahmen des World Health Summit 2017 © BMBF/Hans-Joachim Rickel

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Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak to you on a topic that is relatively new for the G7 and G20 – but becoming more and more important – and that is health policy. Cross-cutting issues in global health and health research – issues which are of course very near and dear to me as a representative of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) – is something which the G7/8 has focussed on for less than ten years. Global health was only just recently put on the G20 agenda. The Federal Government has always put a high priority on establishing health on the agenda of both Groups. I believe we have been quite successful in this respect at the G7 summit in Elmau, the G20 summit in Hamburg, and at the concomitant meetings of the health ministers.

As important as it is that the G7 and G20 have put global health on the agenda, it must not stand separate from other important international processes. The G7 and G20 Declarations have consistently emphasized that the World Health Organization (WHO) plays the main role in setting the agenda in all matters of global health. As the coordinating agency for international public health, the WHO is more important in the age of global health challenges than ever before. Its analyses and recommendations provide basic orientation in the fight against diseases and epidemics and in securing a healthy and long life. But when it comes to tackling urgent global health issues through research and development activities, the recommendations of the WHO are not enough. They must be accompanied by targeted and efficient mechanisms of implementation both within and beyond the scope of the WHO.

It is important that influential political bodies give their support to the strategic approaches put forth by the WHO. The G7 and G20 have responded and taken action accordingly in recent years. The German Federal Government places a high value on discussing global health issues with representatives of the world’s wealthiest developed countries. It is these countries which bear a special responsibility to join forces and address global health hazards and their humanitarian and economic impact. We must prevent crises, strengthen health systems and advance research and development. All of this is not as selfless as it sounds. In fact, inadequate healthcare systems, gaps in research and in the delivery of care also cost the world's wealthy countries millions of human lives and many billions of dollars. (optionally: Even some of the so-called neglected tropical diseases affect the G20 states much more than the developing countries).

By pointing out the urgency and offering approaches to solving these issues, the G7 and G20 can help the WHO and the international community to cope with global health problems. But their recommendations and agreements on global health research must have an impact beyond their own sphere of influence so that they have a chance to be implemented.

The German Federal Research Ministry is convinced that efficient research for global health can only be realized through coordinated global action.

Many effective and made-to-measure initiatives have been launched in this vein in the last 20 years. Take, for example, the product development partnerships (PDPs) in the area of neglected tropical diseases, the European and Developing Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), the Global Antibiotic Research and Developing Partnership (GARDP) and the Combating Antimicrobial Resistance-Accelerating global antimicrobial innovation (CARB-X) initiative – the latter two being the most recent answer to the increasing problem of antimicrobial resistances. Of course there are similar initiatives under the umbrella of the WHO, for example the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR).

I am well aware that this great variety of initiatives is also viewed with criticism, including objections about lack of transparency and the risk of wasting resources as a result of co-movements. Nevertheless – and of this I am sure – this criticism does not measure up if we take a closer look at the initiatives I have mentioned. When taking a closer look, we can see that these are tailor-made, effective initiatives in public-private or public-public partnerships with a high degree of transparency and, as a rule, a high degree of economic efficiency. I do not believe that such a canon of instruments can be handled more quickly and more efficiently when organized by a single agency. And this is why the BMBF chooses to address the many different challenges through a range of specific initiatives – product development partnerships such as GARDP, EDCTP, the WHO TDR and many others.

However, despite the wide range of activities, a solution is still lacking for some of the urgent challenges. We must develop custom tailored new initiatives for these challenges.

The necessity to do so is based on our painful experience of a lack of vaccines to fight dangerous pathogens which have the potential to unleash a pandemic. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in which Germany participates was founded to ensure in future that vaccines are available to fight such pathogens from the very outbreak of a disease. CEPI has demonstrated that it is possible for stakeholders as divergent as states, private foundations, the pharmaceutical industry and public-sector research to quickly rally behind a joint framework for action.

The G20 believes the problem of increasing antimicrobial resistances (AMR) calls for a new initiative. That is why the heads of state and government of the G20 announced the establishment of a platform for research and development on AMR, known as the Global AMR R&D Hub.

Unlike CEPI, which is a focussed product development initiative, the Global AMR R&D Hub serves as a more broad-based, superordinate structure for the coordination, intensification and acceleration of worldwide research and development. I am most pleased that we have succeeded in only three months’ time after the G20 Summit in Hamburg in establishing the basis for this platform. Some of the G20 members and representatives from other countries and private foundations met one month ago here in Berlin to agree on the next steps until the official establishment of the Hub in early 2018.

Despite all their differences, CEPI and the Global AMR R&D Hub have one important thing in common: Both initiatives operate within the framework of the WHO. CEPI is a part of the WHO Blueprint Initiative. The Global AMR R&D Hub follows the recommendations in the WHO Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance. Both focus their activities on the WHO list of priority diseases, and both initiatives have a seat reserved for the WHO on their steering bodies.

And so, I conclude where my opening remarks began: Every challenge must be met in its own specific way. But functioning initiatives, or parts thereof, can serve as the blueprint for other tailored solutions to new challenges. We need a wide range of options, we need coordinated action, and we need tailor-made solutions to win the fight against prospective health hazards.

I am calling for global health governance with the WHO at the helm, supported by major political bodies such as the G7/G20, based on existing structures wherever possible, and which develops quick and effective new solutions where they are needed. It does not matter which of the stakeholders launches an initiative: What is important is that these initiatives are established to become universally binding. And in this respect, I think we are off to a good start.

Thank you.