“Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life”.
This quote from President John F Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address was repeated to me by a fellow delegate at the start of the UN NGO Conference on Global Health this week.
It was a powerful statement, and (as it turned out) indicated the passion, inspiration and cautious optimism that would be conveyed by speakers and delegates over the next three days. The passion for change brought representatives of over than 300 NGOs to Melbourne.... the inspiration delivered by the international leaders who addressed the delegation.... and the cautious optimism of all attendees who know that while we have the capacity and resources to meet the MDGs, we still lack the international political will to do so.
Over the three days of speeches, Roundtables, workshops and networking lunches, a number of themes emerged:
- The need to recognise the interdependency of the MDGs. While MDGs 4, 5 & 6 are often the focus of health related discussion, speakers emphasised the fact that all the MDGs are interlinked, and that achieving universal primary education and gender equality are also crucial to improving health outcomes. This point was emphasised in the Day 2 Workshop on Gender and Healthcare when Dr Desiree Yap raised the greater difficulties that are being faced right now by female-headed households in Pakistan in the competition for food and resources.
- The importance of engaging communities with development projects. Every day, speakers came back to the fact that the best development outcomes come when developing communities are central to the projects. Navanethem Pillay, the UN commissioner for Human Rights emphasised that ‘in designing solutions, the most vulnerable must be engaged as proponents and agents of change’.
- The need to think beyond the MDGs. While speakers emphasised the importance and benefits of the MDGs, there was also an emphasis on the need to not consider them a definitive or final goal. Reference was made to needs that exist in addition to the MDGs, like the need to address non-communicable diseases like diabetes; and that the fact that achievement of the MDGs will not end all global health problems, and that further investment will need to be made.
While the Conference featured a number of outstanding international speakers with incredible experience and expertise on global health – I was proud that some of the highlights of the conference were speeches given by Australians:
- Collingwood Footballer Harry O’Brien’s gave a passionate speech to youth delegates, emphasising unity as the key to effective and efficient change
- Reverend Tim Costello of World Vision Australia received a standing ovation from the delegates with his plea to stand in solidarity with the people of Pakistan, and to support a two year moratorium on debt repayments.
- Former Australian Youth Ambassador to the UN Chris Varney’s speech of impassioned optimism and hope was incredibly moving and received the conference’s second standing ovation.
In addition to the fantastic representation of hope and passion from these Australians, were these notable comments:
- Everywhere that men are poor, women are poorer – Dr Desiree Yap
- If you can’t do advocacy, you’re not going to make a difference in the world - Sue Ndwala
- [To the youth of the world] We have failed you miserably. We prepare you to be engineers... we should be training you to be activists - Dr Claudio Schuftan
- The UN’s work is measured by the things we cannot see – the uncountable horrors its benchmarks have prevented – Chris Varney
Another remarkable moment of the conference came when Dr Sue Wareham commented on the allocation of $1.46 trillion dollars a year on war, while less than a tenth of this could achieve the MDGs. Her comment on the potential of reallocation was made at an incredibly opportune time, as shortly after I received this tweet:
@BarackObama: I made a pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office - and tonight the American combat mission in Iraq has ended"
I cannot do justice to the incredible wisdom shared at the 63rd
Annual Conference, but I will be blogging further about comments on Australia’s unique position opportunity to combat poverty, as mentioned at the Conference. Until then, for more information about Conference content, you can read the text of the Declaration adopted by the delegation
, or visit the conference website