WORLDPOST

To Achieve Good Health We Need Good Education

01/22/2014 11:00 am ET | Updated Mar 24, 2014
Sarah Brown

In 2008 I was privileged to work at the heart of a movement driven by many thousands of people to reduce maternal deaths and reverse two decades of blocked progress. With the maternal mortality campaign convened by the White Ribbon Alliance we highlighted how, by reducing the threat of death in childbirth, we could not only save mothers' lives but unlock better rates of infant survival, better family health, enhanced employment prospects and even higher standards of living.

Maternal deaths have fallen from 540,000 a year in 1990 to 287,000 in 2010, and the momentum is there for to save even more lives of mothers and their precious infants. By making the connection between dying in childbirth and improved health education many women have been saved and there has also been an all-round improvement in the health of many families in poorer countries.

Now an even bigger idea - a 'Grand Convergence' of all the health goals - is proposed by the Lancet Commission on Investing in Health, 'Global Health 2035: a world converging within a generation' launched at the UN last week. This will also be prestigiously presented in Davos this week by Commission Chair Larry Summers alongside Bill Gates and Governor of the Bank of Botswana, Linah Mohohlo.

The 'Grand Convergence' idea opens a window of hope for a world where progress has been stalled by cuts in overseas aid and by a blanket of protection that was a result of the global recession. The core proposal is to join up all the global health initiatives to form one strategic partnership for better health and wellbeing for everyone. This is to be hugely welcomed, but I hope one more converging factor can be taken on board as soon as possible.

The international community has firmly focused on three major health goals. An under-5 mortality rate of 16 in 1,000, an annual AIDS death rate of 8 in 100,000 and an annual death rate from tuberculosis of 4 in 100,000.

But none of these goals can be reached without investment in education.

A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five than a child born to an illiterate woman. The reductions in disease and death cannot be achieved without unlocking the promise of educational opportunity.

Research has shown how education - the flow of information about the disease, best done in schools among teenagers - reduces the prevalence of AIDS and its spread. We aim for the 'three zeroes' in aids - zero new deaths, zero new infections and zero discrimination but we cannot achieve these three without pushing for zero ignorance.

Thanks to funding and philanthropy, the past 10 years have been a golden decade for global health. Much-needed resources have been invested in health, raising its share of aid from just over $2 billion to just over $18 billion. But at the same time education's share of aid has been static at best. The result? Today 57 million children are not enjoying a first day at school and 500 million of today's school age girls will never finish their primary education.

Even in 2030 as many as 45 per cent of the global population and 50 per cent of girls will have left or be leaving school without completing a secondary education. And the heavy price could be paid in unemployment, social discontent and poorer health outcomes. This would be tragic given the huge investment in health care and health systems.

I propose an urgent summit of health and education leaders to put forward an agreement on how we underpin health initiatives with educational programs. To maintain our strides in health and go the final mile, we need investment to ensure all young people can go to school and a simultaneous commitment to ensure that every child spends time at school and really learns.

Basic education and learning is too often neglected when dividing up aid and young boys and girls are held back for years - if not a lifetime - by the absence of good schooling mindful of the life skills and employment skills that will serve them well. They need free access to teachers, books, tech equipment, great content, and other learning materials and classrooms if they are to have a fair chance in life and a chance of fulfilling their potential.

In this 'Grand Convergence', let's not leave education outside the door. Investing in health without investing in education is a non-starter if we are serious about success. So alongside the 16-8-4 convergence plan targets for reducing infant mortality and AIDS infections and TB, we should add a new figure - 16-8-4-0. A zero exclusion rate from education.