Brics help improve health in poorest countries

Janice Roberts | 26 Mar 2012
Business Live
Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA are injecting new resources, innovation and momentum into efforts to improve health in the world's poorest countries, according to a report by Global Health Strategies initiatives, released in New Delhi on Monday.

This came as many traditional donors reduced or slowed their spending, the report said.

While all five countries had been engaged in foreign assistance for decades, the report found that the size and scope of their efforts had grown speedily, along with their economies.

"Although G7 donors still provide far more total assistance, the report estimates that the average annual growth in the Brics' foreign assistance spending between 2005 and 2010 was more than ten times higher than that of the G7," the report added.

Blessed Okole, senior general manager for infrastructure and planning at SA's Technology Innovation Agency said that over the last decade, the Brics had begun to transition from aid-dependent to emerging global actors with significant geopolitical influence.

"With some donors facing financial challenges, the Brics will play an increasingly important role in improving health in less-developed countries," he added.

The GHsi report was based on "a detailed analysis of the Brics' global health and development efforts and the contributions of their innovative health programmes".

According to David Gold, one of GHSi's co-founders, the Brics were contributing significant new resources to global health and development efforts.

"Just as importantly, they are establishing new models for cooperation that challenge the way we think about foreign assistance," Gold said.

"With growing capacity for innovation and an emphasis on south-south partnership, the Brics are delivering important new health interventions and technologies to developing countries."

The GHSi report found that the Brics approached foreign assistance differently from traditional donors, largely due to their own domestic experiences.

"In health and other areas, the Brics emphasise south-south cooperation and technical support that aim to build capacity and self-sufficiency."

The report also described important contributions by the Brics to multilateral health initiatives including Brazil's role in founding UNITAID and Russia's role as a founding donor to the GAVI Alliance's Advanced Market Commitment on pneumococcal vaccines.

While not all the Brics had robust health assistance programmes, all had made advances and implemented innovative programmes as they worked to address their own major health challenges.

"For example, Brazil's landmark 1996 commitment to provide universal access to effective HIV treatment significantly influenced global policies on access to medicines. China has been a leader on malaria treatment in Africa while SA is pioneering the introduction of new molecular diagnostics for tuberculosis (TB), the report said.

"These types of examples are providing unique models of success that are influencing health efforts in other developing countries," it added.

Beyond providing assistance, the report also documented how public and private sector innovators in the Brics countries were supplying high-quality, low-cost health technologies that had revolutionised health access among poor countries. Indian manufacturers, for example, had played a critical role in driving down prices for vaccines and HIV/Aids medications.

While India was currently the largest producer of low-cost drugs and vaccines, each of the Brics was investing heavily in science and technology, including health R&D.

China has pledged to increase R&D expenditures from 1.3% of GDP in 2005 to 2.5% of GDP by 2020, and the government is working with vaccine manufacturers to scale up production for global markets.

The report said Russia had announced a US$4 billion investment in pharmaceutical development.

"The Brics countries are already cooperating in areas such as health, agriculture, science and technology," Rani Mullen, a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi said.

"As these collaborations continue to expand and deepen, they could have significant health impact and potentially transform the way countries work together to improve health in the developing world."

At a meeting in 2011, the ministers of health of the Brics countries declared their commitment to work collectively on health and to support health efforts in other developing countries.

As assistance spending increased, Brics countries were also formalising their assistance strategies more broadly. Brazil, Russia, India and SA all had or were to launch central assistance agencies and China had recently issued a white paper outlining its approach to foreign assistance, the report noted.

The GHSi report said that the Brics summit at the end of the month would assist in generating greater momentum for collaboration in health and development. India, for example, had been championing the creation of a Brics Development Bank to formalise and coordinate assistance efforts.

The report also cited a number of possible subject areas where the Brics could coordinate their efforts, including TB innovation, prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, polio eradication, disease surveillance and access to vaccines.