I recently co-authored a piece in the journal Public Health about my esteemed colleague, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the first female Prime Minister of Norway. A medical doctor who's championed health as a human right and focused on sustainable development throughout her illustrious career, Dr. Brundtland is currently Deputy Chair of The Elders, a group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights.
Her early life experiences generated a lifelong commitment to making a difference in the lives of people, particularly those in greatest need and her impact on global health is significant.
During Dr. Brundtland's time at WHO and since, she has been a powerful advocate of the use of private-public partnerships to tackle many complex issues. She often emphasized the need to "reach out to others" within the UN system and the public and private sectors. She demonstrated the value of doing this while playing leading roles in various partnerships that have played a transformative role in relation to vaccines, micronutrients and major infectious diseases. These collaborations represent a new form of shared power among public health and development agencies and private interests. Dr. Brundtland found concerns that this would diminish the WHO's role unwarranted as long as WHO asserted its central and unique functions related to global norms, data credibility and support for evidence-based policies.
In recent years, these areas have been contested and demand constant, visible, intellectually strong and politically astute leadership. As mentioned in my perspectives article on the FCTC (Lancet, January 2014), budget cuts and a lack of continued governance fighting to keep tobacco control as a top priority has led to unfinished business and a renewed need for leaders with vision, thinking across sectors and beyond egos for results based partnerships.
In today's evolving world, the UN and Bretton Woods organizations sometimes have trouble keeping up with more recent innovative platforms such as the World Economic Forum (member driven by primarily private sector businesses and focused on multi-stakeholder collaboration and public private partnerships to "improve the state of the world" per their mission), the Clinton Global Initiative (also member driven but focused on "commitments" for measured impact); and the UN Global Compact (working with businesses to align their operations and strategies with ten principles derived from UN values).
We owe it to Dr. Brundtland and to the many others who have made it their life's work to improve global health to continue the fight. For their efforts to not be in vain, we need to stay the course and continue to conduct global research to build stronger evidence of what works implement programs using partnerships with purpose and impact in order to positively impact health and quality of life worldwide.