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UN conference season in full swing

Prizes should be awarded to anyone who keeps track of UN conferences - prizes or a sympathy card! However, three UN conferences held in the last part of 2011 will influence future global health spending priorities and programmes...

Non-communicable diseases

Firstly, in September world leaders agreed to increase efforts to prevent and treat non-communicable diseases. This was just the second time that a UN summit had focused on health, following the ground-breaking summit on HIV/AIDS in 2001.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) cover a grab bag of conditions, from diabetes and heart disease to cancer and chronic respiratory disease: anything you can’t catch from another person or animal. Most  people in the world, and increasingly in the developing/majority world, die from NCDs.

Governments and the UN now have the task of developing national interventions and a global monitoring framework. Targets for prevention and treatment are voluntary. That weakens the drive for strong action on NCDs, as does the lack of immediate action on joint working by UN agencies, governments and civil society.

Climate change

Leaders at the UN climate change conference in Durban, South Africa in December agreed to work on a new climate deal. The deal will have legal force and require developed and developing countries to cut emissions. The terms must be decided by 2015 to come into effect from 2020. Governments must now agree how far and how fast each country will cut emissions.

Two things changed in Durban. Developing countries, including China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas producer, agreed to legal limits on their emissions. Previously, poorer nations rejected any obligation for tackling climate change, insisting that rich countries – which produced most of the carbon currently in the atmosphere – should.

The US, the second biggest emitter, agreed that a new pact would have legal force. That’s important because existing targets aren’t legally binding.

The agreement – the “Durban platform” – ensures finance for developing countries to help them move to a low carbon economy and cope with the effects of climate change.

Agreeing the scale and speed of emissions cuts will be politically fraught. Failure will be catastrophic for people and their health. But the conference outcome is a small step in the right direction.

Aid effectiveness

You could be forgiven for missing news of the third UN conference, which took place in Busan, South Korea, and focused on development co-operation and aid effectiveness. The effective use of funding for health is a concern for many civil society groups including Save the Children. Jessica Espey, Policy Advisor at Save the Children, attended the conference, and in a news story for the RCN, Healthier Returns: Making Aid for Healthcare More Effective, she summarises Save the Children’s recommendations for aid effectiveness.