"A healthy life for all"

Opening speech by the Parliamentary Secretary of State Thomas Silberhorn at the Second German African Healthcare Symposium, 14 October at Karl Storz GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin

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Honorable Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
esteemed guests,

Let me begin by thanking the company Storz for hosting this event and welcoming us to this nice training and visitors' centre. Thank you also to the German-African Business Association – thanks in large part to you, German businesses are showing increasing interest in our neighbouring continent! The fact that so many business representatives have come here today, from all parts of Germany, shows me that German businesses can and want to contribute to making health systems fit for the future, including in developing countries.

Five years ago, we launched the German Healthcare Partnership in cooperation with the BDI (Federation of German Industries). As in any good partnership, we complement one another through our strengths. You are contributing your technological and entrepreneurial expertise, we have the development policy and regional expertise and our networks.

For us, as development policymakers, the people in our partner countries are, of course, our top priority. Helping to improve their lives is an ethical imperative for us. And there is a lot that still has to be done:

  • Despite the massive progress achieved through the Millennium Development Goals, 16,000 small children still die every day – many from diseases that nowadays can actually be prevented.

  • More than one billion people worldwide still have no access to adequate and affordable health care.

  • And every year, more than 100 million people are pushed into poverty by the costs of medical care.

Effective health systems are vital. It is not only that they give individuals the certainty of knowing that they are safe, that diseases which are in fact treatable will not suddenly become a threat to their lives. They are also vital for societies as a whole and for the private sector. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa was a stark reminder of how a dangerous, yet in fact controllable, disease can even throw countries with weak health systems into economic turmoil, pushing them to the brink of economic collapse and wreaking even greater havoc than the virus itself.

This means that affordable health care is a protection against impoverishment – for individual people and for entire countries. Our goal must be to ensure that as many people and countries as possible can enjoy this protection. Needless to mention that we, too, have a vested interest in preventing such pandemics from escalating into a global crisis.

At any rate, the epidemic was a dramatic wake-up call. We must strengthen health systems in developing countries – not merely because of Ebola. That is something that Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized once again in her speech at this year's WHO World Health Assembly.

My ministry, the BMZ, has therefore initiated a special programme on health in Africa which will help the countries affected by Ebola rebuild their national health systems and improve prevention. This year and next year alone, we will be making an additional 200 million euros available for this programme.

We are glad that the private sector, too, is becoming involved in this. In cooperation with the German Healthcare Partnership we have set up a central point of contact and advice at the BDI, the contact person is Ms Diana Peters. First, the focus was on measures to help fight the Ebola crisis. Now the focus is on activities to strengthen health systems in Africa.

Strong health systems are a foundation stone not only for improved health but also for sustainable development, social peace and global security. 11 per cent of the growth in low and middle income countries in the past 20 years can be attributed to better health.

That is why better health worldwide is in the interest of the private sector, too. German companies, in particular, depend on healthy, well-trained staff, prospering societies and a reliable environment for the production and sales of their high quality and specialised products.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is a striking example of how successful the cooperation between various health actors can be. Producers of vaccines are part of the Alliance, as are governments, NGOs, research institutions, multilateral organisations and private donors.

Let me remind you that the number of small children who die every day is 16,000.
A simple vaccine could save 25 per cent of these children, that is 1.5 million children's lives every year. Compelling facts that convinced our guests when we hosted a pledging conference of the Alliance in January. Pledges actually exceeded the envisaged target of 7.5 billion US dollars so that more than 300 million children worldwide can now be immunised over the next five years.

It is not up to policymakers and the public sector alone to address development issues. Successful development can only be achieved with the involvement and expertise of the private sector and of civil society. To master the global challenges we are facing, German companies, too, need to be involved. We need the expertise and innovative capacity of German SMEs, in particular.

That is why the German government has been supporting development partnerships with the private sector for 16 years. Under our programme we are promoting private sector commitment at the point where entrepreneurial opportunities and the need for development action meet.

The BMZ has so far made more than 325 million euros available for this programme. More than 560 million euros have been contributed by the companies. In other words, every euro from the tax money we invest in these partnerships generates 2.7 euros for development – that is real leverage. Of course it is not in euros or cents that we measure our achievements but in opportunities. Opportunities for the people in our partner countries, for the policies and goals of our development ministry and also for German companies. Many companies are aware that our development partnerships are a door opener to new opportunities in new markets – and, probably, that is precisely why you are here with us today.

Some of the most exiting projects among the more than 1,800 development partnerships set up so far were initiated by companies from the health sector. The range of projects is very broad. It reflects the diversity of "Made in Germany" innovation which can be found all over the world, not just in Africa.

  • Together with our host, the company Storz, we began a few years ago to set up centres in India to demonstrate minimally invasive surgery techniques. The fact that I have been invited to speak here today, for me, is proof that you are not unhappy with this partnership.

  • Together with the company Sysmex and others we are currently involved in projects on preventive health care in Ghana.

  • And in Viet Nam we are cooperating with the company B. Braun on a project for training medical staff.

We hold an ideas competition four times a year where we select the best projects to support. More information can be found online at Help us to spread the word or, better still, give it a try yourself.

We have deployed what we refer to as "scouts" for development cooperation to many chambers and business associations. They are development experts whose task is to inform companies about the opportunities in developing countries. All of you with an interest in Africa will certainly know our colleague Ms Helfmann-Hundack. She is a scout at your service at the German-African Business Association.

Let me also draw your attention to our service point for cooperation with the private sector, which was scaled up in September. We now have more staff at your service in Berlin and Bonn, who will help you with regard to getting involved in developing and emerging countries and who can assist you when it comes to finding the right contact person in a country.

Our motto must be: shaping change together. Solutions for the health sector in developing and emerging countries, in particular, require a combination of political will, high quality products, innovative business models and well-designed financing mechanisms.

There are many examples of companies to show how that can be done. To those who wish to know more, I warmly recommend looking at the BMZ publication "Bringing Medicines to Low-Income Markets".

A topic that is especially important for both us at the BMZ and the private sector is vocational training. Well-trained health professionals are the backbone of any functioning health system. In 2012 and 2013 alone, more than 42,000 health professionals in more than 20 countries received further training with the support of the BMZ.

Between 2007 and 2011 Malawi, for instance, was able to double the number of its trained health workers. This is an area in which I would like to draw even more on the expertise of the private sector. In Africa alone, we now have eleven partnerships focusing on vocational training. Local chambers and associations cooperate with German partners with a view to ensuring that vocational training is practice-oriented. We are also exploring new avenues in our cooperation with the German Healthcare Partnership. We jointly developed an e-learning course which was launched this year and which offers medical staff in developing and emerging countries the opportunity to qualify in hospital management.

As I see it, digital applications also offer huge opportunities when it comes to fighting epidemics. The BMZ has begun to address the issue of e-health. It would be ideal to set up a platform to monitor diseases to be shared and used by various institutions, donors and NGOs. And it should monitor several diseases at once. I look forward to hearing your suggestions on this!

And I am sure that there are many more opportunities for us to work together towards better health worldwide. Let's use these opportunities together.

We may differ in terms of our strengths and our outlook. Yet, I think we can endorse the message expressed by the Portuguese writer and Nobel laureate, José Saramago, who said:

"If [...] justice existed, not one more human being would die [...] of the many diseases that are curable for some but not for others."

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