IHP news #512 (March 8, 2019)

International Women’s Day, the 2nd Global Health 50/50 report & sweeping WHO reform

By on March 8, 2019



Dear Colleagues,

This week, naturally, we’ll spend a lot of attention to International Women’s Day, with among others the release of the second Global Health 50/50 report, Equality Works, which revealed that most leading organisations active in global health still have a long way to go towards workplace gender equality (although some progress has been made). It’s a ground-breaking analysis of 198 global organisations active in health, covering an estimated 4.5 million employees worldwide, with lots of killer stats revealing that the majority are failing to deliver on sexual harassment policies, gender pay gap reporting, and gender parity in leadership positions. Put differently, they are ‘failing to walk the talk’ in the words of Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand.  Impressive and much-needed report. Below just one quick comment from my side.

In her foreword, Ardern says: “If there’s one sector that should set precedent, it is global health. The field stands for principles of rights, fairness and universality, and strives to achieve health for all – particularly the most vulnerable.” She thus believes global health organisations can and should lead the way towards better wellbeing, by building fairer, more equal workplaces. While broadly agreeing with this stance, it’s a slightly  naïve view of global health, I’m afraid – as Global Health 50/50 made clear itself, in a way, by also listing the likes of AB InBev, Coca-Cola and Heineken as part of the “global health” organisations in the report (even among the ones hailed as ‘having made significant improvements across a range of domains’ 😊). If it were up to me, I’d kick them out from the list next year, if only from an ‘integrated SDG health perspective’ (Peter Sands can tell you more about that). I know they’re probably “leveraging and harnessing” their abundant resources towards a better world and showcasing their superior delivery models in fancy “global health” PPPs, hence their inclusion in this report, but perhaps Global Health 50/50 also includes them to point out where “real power” lies in this world?  See a poignant tweet from this week: “Every time I look up the total program budget for the @WHO [i.e. for 2 years] and see that it’s roughly equivalent to @CocaCola‘s total *ADVERTISING* budget ($4.4 billion to $4 billion), I feel my brain trying to self-combust.”

With that wicked comparison with WHO’s budget, we get to the second big highlight of the week: the official announcement by WHO of the ‘most wide-ranging reforms in the organisation’s history’. It seems a historical reform indeed, and first reactions have been rather positive in most corners. “As the world has changed, WHO also has to adapt”, dr. Tedros said.

In other news from this week, the UK launched a Global “period poverty” Fund and taskforce on Monday to help all women and girls access sanitary products by 2050 and to tackle the stigma around menstruation. The Africa Health Agenda International Conference   (AHAIC) took place in Kigali (5-7 March)  (with among others the launch of the African Women in Global Health Hub, and the  Strategic Purchasing Africa Resource Center (SPARC))); we also noted a hard-hitting MSF letter ahead of the CEPI Board meeting in Tokyo (7-8 March) (it seems that when real money is to be made, you can always count on ‘the billionaire class’ to take over 😊; but CEPI was quick to respond); further disruption in the world of scientific publishing, the usual key publications and reports (with among others, a  WHO report on corruption & health systems, and a report ahead of the G20 meeting later this year,  by the G20 Health and Development Partnership). And no, the Ebola outbreak response in the DRC still isn’t going well …  Last but not least, Horton wonders this week whether Global Health has “lost it”.

On a merrier note, and nicely coinciding with this International Women’s week, Ilona Kickbusch popped up again on Twitter. Twitter welcomed her back, as we all – cosmopolitan and less cosmopolitan followers – missed her. Judging from the amount of tweets in these first days, she also seems to have missed Twitter! 🙂

Enjoy your reading.

Kristof Decoster



(you find the pdf of the newsletter here: IHPn512 )

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