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Will the G7 Health Ministerial Meeting Spur the G7 Biarritz Summit to a Healthy Success?

Duja Muhanna, G7 Research Group
May 16, 2019

On May 16-17, 2019, G7 health ministers are gathering in Paris, under France's G7 presidency, to discuss the theme of "Ensuring Health Care for All." Also participating are Léonie Claudine Lougue Sorgho, Burkina Faso's health minister, and Guidio Kouldjim, representing the G5 Sahel group of countries, and civil society experts from Women 7, Civil 7 and the Gender Advisory Council. The ministerial meeting, led by Agnès Buzyn, France's Minister for Solidarity and Health, will seek to strengthen health systems — particularly in the most vulnerable countries — and universal local access to preventive care, primary care and treatment against the major pandemics, be they transmissible or chronic diseases.

Its work will help prepare and guide that of G7 leaders, when they meet for their annual summit in Biarritz on August 24-26, 2019. It is thus worth reviewing how G7 summits have governed health, and asking if G7 health ministers' meeting in the lead up help them to do more.

Deliberations

A key function G7 summits is deliberation, whose outcomes are measured by the number of paragraphs devoted to health topics in summit declarations issued in the leaders' names. Health became a major agenda item under French leadership in 1996 and American leadership in 1997 and continued to grow. In 2002, the G8 (now with Russia) began to prioritize health by including it in the chair's summary, which highlights the leaders' top priorities. At the St. Petersburg Summit in 2006, eight paragraphs of the chair's summary referred to infectious disease. In reference to health, documents generated from the summit emphasized democratic principles and civil society participation.

At the 2016 Ise-Shima Summit, hosted by Japan, 164 paragraphs were devoted to health. The Ise-Shima Summit also produced one stand-alone document on health, the G7 Ise-Shima Vision for Global Health, which highlighted concrete actions for advancing global health issues.

Commitments

From 1975 to 2018, the G7/8 made 412 precise, future-oriented, politically binding commitments on health. They covered eight major components: aging, biotechnology, drugs and medicine, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), mental health, HIV/AIDS, polio, and other infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and malaria.

The very nature of health is that it has implications well beyond its own issue area. Health was thus integrated into several other G7 subjects such as the environment, development and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), with includes universal health coverage.

The G7 made its first health commitment at the 1979 Tokyo G7 summit hosted by Japan. Here G7 leaders vowed to "place more emphasis on cooperation with developing countries in overcoming hunger and malnutrition." Health-related topics were scarce on the agenda, however, until 1996, when the global HIV/AIDS pandemic led to the creation of UNAIDS. Since then, the G7 has given particular attention to health, for example at Elmau, Germany, in 2015. The Elmau Summit declaration produced 67 commitments on health, including commitments on the Ebola epidemic as well as on 17 neglected tropical diseases and how to work with the private sector and organizations to eradicate them. Maternal, newborn and child health were also major issues for the Elmau Summit.

At the 2018 Charlevoix Summit in Canada, G7 leaders made nine commitments on health. They included commitments to support strong health systems, women's health, the International Health Regulations and a successful replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2019. The group also reaffirmed its support and efforts to fight AMR, end tuberculosis and eradicate polio.

Compliance

The G7 Research Group, based at the University of Toronto in Canada, has assessed 70 of the 412 commitments on health for G7 members' compliance with them until the next summit arrives. It finds that G7 members complied with their health commitments at a level of 76% — the same level as for all subjects as a whole. Compliance was particularly strong for the assessed health commitments made in 2007, where the six assessed commitments averaged compliance of 85%. It was even higher in 2014, where the three assessed commitments averaged compliance of 91%. High compliance also came in 2015.

Compliance with the critical health commitments made at the summits hosted by Japan in 2000 and France in 2003 was also very high, but it has been considerably lower in other years.

By individual member, Canada led compliance with an average of 92%. Then came the United States with 88%, the United Kingdom at 85%, the European Union at 80%, France at 77%, Japan at 74%, Germany at 72%, and Italy at 58%.

Ensuring Health for All: A G7 Priority

France's G7 2019 presidency has committed to strengthen primary heath care and has set out three priorities to meet this objective, as stated on the official website of France's G7 presidency:

  1. Combating unequal access to health care
    Most of the global population cannot access all the health services they need, and health systems are not addressing the various health issues encountered by individuals throughout their lives. As G7 host, France intends to promote the strengthening primary health care, which is necessary socioeconomic development.
  2. Getting all stakeholders to eliminate AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by 2030
    AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria kill more than 2.5 million people annually. France will use the G7 to mobilize all stakeholders and step up the fight against the pandemics. France is hosting the Global Fund's Replenishment Conference this year. The international community now needs to work innovatively with civil society to find effective means of cooperation.
  3. Improving the effectiveness of health systems by sharing best practices
    Using the G7 framework, France will share local experiences and best practices among members to help improve health system effectiveness.

The health ministerial meeting in Paris in May offers an opportunity to strengthen states' commitments to global health. The ministers will draw the attention of political leaders to the major health challenges that need the support of the heads of state and government. Rapid and determined political action at the country level is essential for protecting health and human security. With their health ministers help in May, will the G7 leaders at the Biarritz Summit in August find consensus on important health issues, create G7 commitments and compliance and thereby spur global action to help achieve SDG 3 on health and ensure the health and well-being of millions around the globe?

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Duja MuhannaDuja Muhanna is a research analyst with the G7 and G20 Research Groups. She joined the G7 Research Group in 2013 and has since served as a compliance analyst and lead analyst. She was a member of the field team at the 2018 G7 summit in Charlevoix, Canada. Her research interests include peace and security issues related to human rights, biodiversity protection and climate change. Duja graduated from the University of Toronto with an honours bachelor's degree in political science and history with a focus on international relations. She is also a certified protocol officer from The Protocol School of Washington.


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