Good values, good value

Richard Synge

The coming months will present world leaders, governments and international organisations with a huge range of pressing issues on which to try to find common ground. Not least of these are the ongoing efforts of the G20 governments and central banks to restore a measure of health to economies brought low by the global financial crisis – and in the process to try to work towards a more sustainable balance in the global economy. To be effective, this almost certainly means looking beyond stimulus measures to an era of painful adjustments in national economic priorities, plus a complex process of national and regional currency realignments, the development of much more sophisticated financial regulation and incentive management, among other things. It is altogether a task of herculean proportions, to which we bring the pertinent and insightful analysis of Professor Raghuram Rajan in this issue of Global.

There is also much unfinished business in reviving last year’s initially positive movement towards mitigating the threat of global warming. Add to the list the continuing priority of defusing mounting threats to global security, the need to mitigate a seemingly endless sequence of major humanitarian crises, the urgency of reviving the stalled international trade talks and the call to reform key international institutions, and no one can pretend that any of the issues on the agenda will be easy to tackle in an entirely cooperative spirit.

Common ground will be especially hard to discern for those leaders under pressure to respond to their own urgent domestic political and economic priorities and realities. This is especially so for those heads of government only recently elected to office or encumbered by sharp divisions in their national parliaments – not least President Barack Obama, who faces mid-term realignments in the US Congress. As too often before, the critical issues to be resolved at the global level risk becoming subject to political and ideological differences at home, leading to delay or, worse, deadlock and confrontation.

At times like these it is helpful to look at where consensus already exists, and where ideological differences are simply irrelevant because the challenges are universally acknowledged and accepted. Although the news headlines are unlikely to dwell on the details of the push to reduce levels of global poverty in the framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), late September’s high-level meeting at the United Nations is an important date in the international diary – and one where the prospects are good for governments to renew the commitments they made at the dawn of the new millennium.

Among the key poverty targets, the health MDGs – reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases – may not be on track to be met in all countries by 2015, but what is clear is that the efforts to meet them are at last producing a huge amount of forward momentum. This is both promising and heartening. But the task ahead is also daunting. Fully meeting the health MDGs will still need enormous resources in training health professionals and building resilient and service-oriented health systems. This is one of the reasons why anti-poverty campaigners are right in saying this year’s high-level meeting represents the last chance to put the MDGs back on track.

The call for resources may be huge in financial terms but it is also one that can be met at the human level through the spread of better health information and the improved availability of essential medicines, whether free or at prices people can afford. It helps that philanthropy is now playing a big role in facilitating the process, offering opportunities to research and develop new medicines, vaccines and treatments, as well as contributing to improved delivery in the regions of greatest need.

The message here is that the concerns of humanity can and do find a response when shown to be truly necessary, and when properly articulated and understood. Today’s global citizens are increasingly aware of the needs, difficulties and priorities of people far beyond their own communities. As the leaders look at the long-term global challenges of eliminating poverty and rescuing the climate from the prospect of unstoppable rises in temperature, they can at least take heart that such measures depend for their success above all on a commitment to common values, and need not be measured solely in financial terms. They may then find that good values are indeed good value.

About the author:

Richard Synge is the Editor of Global


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October 12, 2010 9:20 pm

Whilst I appreciate that all efforts to meet the MDGs need to be made, I would be interested to learn what the development community thinks, with the benefit of hindsight, about the Goals. What comes next? Will there be MDGs The Sequel, or will issues like poverty, education maternal mortality etc have targets set by more niche organisations (e.g. UNESCO, WHO)? What would new realistically achievable goals look like? Universal Secondary Education?? I would like to see such a critique in future Globals..

Tom Minney
November 8, 2010 12:02 pm

Delivering better health will often depend on building better health systems, mostly through working with governments on behind-the-scenes matters such as infrastructure, training, management, logistics. A tax on the “health hop”, the brain drain of skilled and trained health professionals trained by 3rd world countries who then go to work in richer countries, might help make both the training and the systems more sustainable.

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