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Global Health Transformers

By Kristof Decoster
on March 25, 2015

There is quite some debate these days on whether the SDG agenda will turn out “transformative” or not, including in the health domain. Pundits differ (that’s why they’re called pundits), other observers say a paradigm shift is indispensable if real transformation and achievement of a broad agenda are to happen, and there is without any doubt quite some last(-minute/month) scheming going on in the corridors of power (to prevent real transformation).  But this is 2015, and in addition to dealing with such petty issues as the need to transform the global financial sector so that it stops being a key vehicle for the 0.01 % to fill their pockets (and theirs only) and destroy the planet, we need something more trashy to engage the public (or at least stop them from dozing off if the SDGs are on the telly).

So far the SDGs don’t really resonate yet, is our feeling. It’s time to change that. One way to fire up the crowd of potential global citizens, of course, is by allowing the future generations to take over from the old dinosaurs, post-2015. Whether you call the new generations future leaders (Harvard’s preference – in the US you have to be a ‘leader’ to be taken seriously), emerging leaders, future change agents, emerging voices, or anything else, seems less important, what matters is that they do take over and become the ‘disruptive forces’ needed for these dangerous times.

But if this new agenda is all about transformative change, to avoid a ‘perfect storm’ in the coming decades, why not label them ‘global health transformers’? Wouldn’t that appeal to the global audiences and convey the right sense of urgency?

In this all-important year 2015, why not run a reality show called ‘The Global Health Transformer’, with Jeremy Clarkson as the host (we don’t want Jeremy to become unemployed and part of the precariat, given his clear lack of understanding for this class), and Bill Gates in the role of Donald Trump, choosing his successor? (If Warren Buffet is allowed to groom his successor for years, why not Gates?)

Would attract a whole new audience and potential sympathizers for global health causes! We could even split the young apprentices up in global health Autobots and Decepticons (just like in the real global health world!). So let’s choose the next global health Optimus Prime and Megatron  in a nice trashy show, fit for the ages. (Just forget about the scantily clad ladies, Jeremy, or you will get the reproductive health army over you).

As this is a capitalist world, and Bill has already been around for way too long to still be considered as young, innovative and entrepreneurial (he was “the face” of the health MDGs, remember), it seems time for somebody else – preferably also somebody with the same curious mix of Optimus Prime & Megatron skills and vision.

In the show, Bill Gates would ask nerdy questions on global health, Jeremy Clarkson would translate them for a politically incorrect and cynical audience (this is 2015, only Richard Horton still believes in sustainable development manifestos, planetary boundaries and global justice), and candidates would then have to carry out a range of tasks in extremely challenging global health settings. They would be assessed (using intricate PBF schemes), while dealing with cholera in Haiti, eradicating polio in Afghanistan, hunting down Ebola in West-Africa, coping with raw power and intrigues in the corridors of Geneva and Seattle, differentiating bedaquiline from sofosbuvir, ignoring email leaks in AP, etc … in short, they would have to show they are up for the global health game. At the end of each episode, one global health apprentice would be fired from the show by Bill, if he/she failed the Grand Challenge of that episode.

Excellent candidates would, obviously, have to be results-oriented but also talk the global health talk. So Jeremy would also throw them in a few episodes for the crocodiles – in an arena with the likes of Jim Kim, Julio Frenk, Tim Evans, Margaret Chan, Ilona Kickbusch and other Richard Hortons. (Jeremy Shiffman would coach them before entering the arena). Spectators would be more than interested to see whether candidates can survive the likely avalanche of global health 3-letter acronyms,  the woolly jargon on inclusiveness, empowerment, gender issues, planetary health and game changers, …  ; whether they would see clear in the multiple and synchronous global health crises and are able to prioritize among them (according to the funding situation of the moment); whether they can properly assess from where the wind blows, or see synergies in a complex health system where nobody else can,…

Top-notch candidates would obviously also need to be able to rap about UHC, cry like Margaret Chan at the appropriate time to let viewers’ hearts melt, and be as versatile as the real Transformers (swiftly changing from one buzzword to another, “leveraging” heaps of money from the private sector for social and public good goals, establishing multi-stakeholder platforms & running public-private partnerships as if they’ve never done anything else in their lives).

Above all, they would have to be as resilient as the Autobots in the reality show. After all, we don’t want the show to be the ‘Age of Extinction’ right away, this thing would have to run for a few seasons. (It’s also meant to be innovative financing.)

Obviously, Jeremy Clarkson would have to be paid handsomely for his role as a host. Mind you, it’s global health – we don’t do precariat in global health.

But transform we will!

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