Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I am taking the floor for the first time, allow me, Mr. Moderator, to thank the Business Civic Leadership Center and the UN Office for Partnerships for organizing this important and timely forum, and for inviting me to share some ideas.
A lot has already been said about the status of the MDGs and the critical role of the private sector. I will, therefore, restrict myself to highlighting some approaches and initiatives that, I believe, could draw us nearer to the goal of achieving the MDGs by 2015.
Although the focus of the current session is MDGs 5 to 8 – that is maternal health improvement; containing malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases; achieving environmental sustainability and building a global partnership for development – much of what I am going to say equally applies to the other MDGs. As earlier speakers would have pointed out, the MDGs are an inseparable package. Achieving one requires achieving all the others.
The first observation I would like to make is that for most of the obstacles to achieving the MDGs, the solutions are known. We have the benefit of experience of not only the developed countries, but also some developing countries that have successfully, and in some cases dramatically, improved the welfare of their citizens.
Taking maternal health, which remains one of the biggest challenges, as an example, Nepal, one of the Least Developed Countries, has reduced maternal deaths by nearly 50 percent, from 540 to 280 cases per 100,000 live births, in a decade. The current figure is, of course, still unacceptably high, but the dramatic reduction goes to show that even with limited resources, there can be results.
In Nepal’s case, the reduction wasn’t due to a technological breakthrough but rather, supportive legislative reform that enhanced access to the necessary reproductive health services, combined with such simple interventions as providing nutritional supplements to expectant mothers.
Similarly, countries such as Jamaica, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tunisia have seen significant declines in maternal mortality as more women have gained access to family planning services, skilled birth attendance, and emergency obstetric care.
Therefore, what we need to do more is, first, to make such solutions well known to countries facing similar challenges and, second, to invest in these tried and tested solutions rather than spending the scarce resources on trying to come up with new, experimental solutions.
Secondly, although technology is not always the solution, it can, in many cases, be part of the solution. During last year’s session of the Economic and Social Council in Geneva, my office and the UN Office for Partnerships co-hosted a meeting on Digital Health. Three key conclusions from that meeting are relevant to our topic.
The first was that technology, especially information and communication technology, can help overcome some of the long-standing hurdles to development, including cultural barriers. Examples were cited where community health workers are able to collaborate with specialists to deliver improved health care to the community. In certain contexts, this works better than having the specialists physically present, as people are more comfortable dealing with members of their own community than specialists from elsewhere. The second conclusion from the Geneva meeting was that technological solutions are largely being driven by individuals, civil society organisations and private sector actors as a response to specific development challenges at the field level. It is not a bureaucratic endeavor. The third observation, related to the point that I made earlier, was that there are now many innovative solutions that have been shown to work. What is lacking is their application on a large scale.
Private businesses can support these processes further by, disseminating and popularizing such innovative solutions and technologies. As part of their social corporate responsibility and, in some cases, core business strategy, private companies, such as those in the communication business, can make their infrastructure freely or cheaply available for the application of these solutions. In the same way some communication companies already make their infrastructure available for emergency services, they could do so for some development-related applications, especially in the health sector. Indeed, I am of the opinion that the transfer of technology is an area in which the private sector could play a greater role.
The third observation I would like to make relates to equity. One of the obstacles to achieving the MDGs is lack of equitable access to essential services. There may be health services, or clean water in a community, but the majority of people may not have access to them. The issue of equity arises not only at the local or national level, but also at the international level. This is also an area where the private sector can play an important role. We already have the example of AIDS treatment, where a number of pharmaceutical companies are offering drugs to poor countries at highly subsidized prices. This has helped deliver AIDS treatment to those who need it, contributing towards the sixth MDG. The same approach needs to be replicated in other MDG priorities, including malaria and TB treatments, as well as child immunization.
Allow me to turn briefly to the issue of environmental sustainability and in particular the impact of climate change on the least developed countries and and the Small Islands Developing States. What is clear in both these cases is that the burden of adapting to the growing threats posed by climate change is more severe. In this regard, adequate financial resources need to be provided to enable LDCs and SIDS to adapt to climate change. Currently available resources for climate change adaptation and mitigation are inadequate. However, given that SIDS and LDCs cannot afford the cost of adaptation to the effects of climate change which is estimated for the LDCs at 5-10 per cent of their GDP, additional resources would be required to enable them to adapt to climate change.
Finally, I would like to emphasize the point of public-private partnerships. This, indeed, is an important part of the eighth Millennium Development Goal – building a global partnership for development. This is particularly important in the areas of research, infrastructure development, and provision of essential services. Again, there are a number of examples, especially in the health area, where such partnerships have had a great impact. One could mention the Global Fund and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization as notable examples. Similar partnerships need to be forged in other MDG priority areas. For example, something at a similar scale could be done in partnership with the food industry to fight child malnutrition, which contributes to nearly half of all child deaths.
In conclusion, many businesses are already involved in activities that contribute to the Millennium Development Goals, either through their core business operations or social investments. This trend needs to be accelerated through advocacy and appropriate policy-making at all levels. I do however believe that there still remains much room for the strengthening of innovative sources of funding and the flourishing of new initiatives.
In the final analysis, the achievement of the MDGs is not only good for individuals, communities and nations, but for business as well.