South-South collaboration allows solutions to flourish and spread
Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization
Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me congratulate you and the organizers on another successful South-South Development Expo. Let me thank ILO and its Director-General for hosting this event.
South-South collaboration has been recognized as a promising approach to development since at least the Buenos Aires Plan of Action more than 30 years ago. Given the unique health challenges of this century, the approach has become, at once, more relevant and more vibrant.
Let me profile the place of South-South collaboration in overall strategies for development with just three observations.
These observations are the result of some hard realities that became apparent as progress towards the health-related Millennium Development Goals stalled in many countries. They incorporate lessons that have helped the international community introduce some corrective strategies.
Above all, they express much higher respect for the role of developing countries, not just as equal partners, but as the true leaders, and the best critics, of the development process.
First, despite the best intentions, much aid for development is ineffective. For a long time, the blame was placed on weak capacities and poor leadership in recipient countries. Since the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, donors recognize that their own policies can be at fault.
Let me illustrate. In 2009 alone, Viet Nam dealt with more than 400 donor missions to review health projects. Rwanda has to report annually on 890 health indicators to various donors, with nearly 600 relating to HIV and malaria alone.
Second, the best aid is channelled in ways that strengthen local capacities and infrastructures. Building parallel systems for drug procurement and delivery, or data collection and reporting, is not the right answer.
The best aid aims to eliminate the very need for aid. It does so by building the capacities that move countries towards self-reliance. Countries want capacity, not charity.
Third, development initiatives must be country-owned. Assistance must be channelled in ways that support national health plans and strategies, and match national priorities.
If we look beyond health development at larger international policies, we can make another observation. Developing countries have become suspicious of policies made in the international systems that tie the world’s finances, economies, commerce, and trade together.
They suspect the rules are rigged. They are embittered when they see the benefits go to those who are already well-off. As a result, climate talks and trade negotiations fail to reach agreement.
South-South collaboration avoids many of the problems identified during the first decade of this century. The emphasis is firmly placed on capacity building, self-reliance, and sustainability. This is mutual assistance, and this builds trust.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The focus is on solutions, and this Expo has been a splendid and stimulating showcase for solutions and the sharing of success.
South-South collaboration allows ingenious, indigenous solutions to flourish and spread. Sometimes, experiences from the South show how simple, low-tech solutions can have a significant impact on a widespread problem.
You have heard about this, for example, in the experiences with kangaroo care in Columbia. The lives of premature and low-birth-weight babies can be saved, despite the absence of incubators and intensive care wards.
This kind of experience is best transferred from a sister country, with a similar heritage of history and culture, common problems, and shared aspirations.
But collaboration, whether South-South or triangular, can also result in high-tech innovation, tailor-made to match the distinct needs of the developing world. It can give developing countries the best technology on offer.
I would likewise like to share a solution and some of the reasons that help explain its success.
In early December, I will be in Burkina Faso to launch a new vaccine that could eventually eliminate deadly epidemics in Africa’s meningitis belt.
The project to develop a new meningitis vaccine was co-sponsored by WHO and PATH. It began with a need expressed by African health officials.
They asked for a new vaccine and profiled its ideal features, right down to the price. At a target price of 50 cents per dose, no large pharmaceutical company was interested. That prompted the creation of an entirely new model for innovation.
Funding came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Technology was transferred from the USA to a manufacturer in India. African clinicians designed and conducted the clinical trials. Canada assisted in regulatory approval. WHO pre-qualified the vaccine. And yet another group of partners will monitor for adverse events.
This is development assistance at its best. This will bring freedom from a persistent and terrifying disease that not only kills, but leaves many children with permanent mental or hearing disorders.
This is a contribution to human security in Africa. And this is what can happen when developing countries are given the best that the world, acting together, can offer.