500 Day Milestone: Building Momentum for the MDGs

To build on the momentum of the 500 day milestone to reaching the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals, Friends recently sat down with Kate Dodson, Vice-President of Global Health, United Nations Foundation.

As Vice President of Global Health at the United Nations Foundation, Kate Dodson works to ensure that the UN Foundation delivers on its commitments to address the health-related Millennium Development Goals, and builds synergies with UN agencies and other key multilateral partners. Previously, she spent several years as the UN Foundation’s Director of Global Health, served as Executive Director of Program Integration, focused on cross-department and cross-issue collaboration, and spent her first five years at the Foundation in the biodiversity/sustainable development program.

Friends: We are 500 days out from the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In your view, where has the most progress been made with respect to global health?

Kate: In some ways, it’s hard to believe that we’ve reached the 500 day mark. The UN Foundation is recognizing this milestone with MDG 500, an online surge to both celebrate successes but also promote accelerated action.

There is certainly a great to deal to commend in terms of progress made towards achieving these goals. We have been able to make impressive gains on MDG 4 — reducing child mortality — by providing access to life-saving vaccines in developing countries. For example, the UN Foundation is a founding partner of the Measles & Rubella Initiative, a partnership that has helped vaccinate more than 1 billion children against measles since 2000. In 2012, about 84 percent of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday — up from 72 percent in 2000. By making vaccines available to more children, we’ve been able to save lives. In fact, 20 percent of all child deaths averted since 1990 are due to measles vaccination.

Malaria prevention is another area where we have seen significant gains under the framework of the MDGs. The most recent Millennium Development Goals Report tells us that an estimated 3.3 million deaths from malaria were averted between 2000 and 2012 due to the expansion of malaria interventions. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, through which the international community receives more than 50 percent of funding for malaria, has played a critical role in making these interventions — such as insecticide-treated bed nets — available for people in high-risk areas. Through the Nothing But Nets campaign, the UN Foundation has been able to work with partners such as UNICEF, UNHCR and WHO to support the delivery of more than 7 million of these nets. We plan to deliver an additional 500,000 in the next 500 days.

Friends: Of course, we are not there yet. Which areas need greater focus and attention?

Kate: In the next 500 days and beyond, I think the focus has to shift from introducing new interventions and tools to making sure that proven tools and knowledge are accessible to everyone. Working within the framework of the MDGs, we have been able to build a lot of important knowledge about which interventions work, but we still struggle to disseminate this knowledge and implement these interventions in an equitable way that reaches even the hardest-to-reach people.

Organizations such as the Global Fund have recognized the need for greater focus on equity issues and have built this concept directly into their strategies.  I can’t overemphasize how important I think this will be going forward, and I applaud The Global Fund for being ahead of the curve on the issue of equity.

Friends: Understanding that the clock won’t stop ticking even after the next 500 days, what would you like to see receive greater focus in a post-2015 agenda?

Kate: It’s important to recognize how interconnected health is with other sectors. For example, up to 58 percent of health care facilities in sub-Saharan African countries have no electricity at all, which dramatically hinders the quality of care that they can deliver. While this is obviously an issue for the health sector, any solution has to involve the energy sector, as well. In the post-2015 agenda, I would like to see a greater focus on making these connections between health and other sectors. It’s time to shake up the traditional development silos and recognize that many of these things are very interrelated.

Friends: Clearly, achieving the MDGs requires the efforts of a diverse group of stakeholders. To that end, how does the UN collaborate with other global health partners to achieve collective global health objectives?

Kate: It would be impossible to achieve the MDGs — or even make significant progress — without strong partnership. Here, again, I think the Global Fund provides an excellent example of the way that UN agencies work hand-in-hand with other global health organizations. The Global Fund has a longstanding partnership with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AVIDS (UNAIDS), and it has recently strengthened its relationship with both UNICEF and WHO through new agreements signed earlier this year. These partners tend to provide technical expertise and assist with country coordination. The Global Fund also partners with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), as well as public-private partnerships in which UN agencies take part, such as Roll Back Malaria and Stop TB.

In the effort to improve the health of people everywhere, we need organizations with all kinds of skills and expertise — technical, implementation, advocacy, communications, resource mobilization, innovative financing and more. The success of the MDGs and the post-2015 development agenda will depend on our ability to keep bringing these diverse stakeholders together and uniting them under a common vision for creating a better world.

This post was originally published in August 2014.