Lessons learned from the Ebola crisis – Development Minister Müller calls for strong health systems

A health centre in Abeokuta, Nigeria, where babies are immunised against polio.

A health centre in Abeokuta, Nigeria, where babies are immunised against polio.

© Thomas Imo/photothek

Berlin – At the launch of the replenishment conference for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, German Minister Gerd Müller emphasised how critical health systems are for the development of a country.

"The devastating Ebola outbreak should be a lesson to us all: wherever people are left without adequate access to health care, such a virus can be spread easily and rapidly. We cannot have a situation where parents don't know where to take their children to get them immunised or pregnant women are left without the support of midwives. If communities lack doctors, nurses or health clinics, people will die from diarrhoea, influenza, Malaria – and especially and particularly from Ebola. If the necessary medical infrastructure is not in place, even a treatable disease can become life threatening and immunisation programmes can only reach a fraction of all children. That is why we need to strengthen health systems, especially in developing countries."

Having efficient medical infrastructure is an important prerequisite for reaching as many children as possible through far-reaching immunisation programmes. That will be the focus of the launch event on Tuesday, which will precede the Gavi replenishment conference. The BMZ invited guests from Germany and abroad to join Development Minister Müller and Health Minister Gröhe to discuss ways of establishing basic health care even in the poorest countries. The motto of the event is "United for a healthy future – strengthening health systems is key!" Speakers will include Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, and Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Health Minister from Senegal, who will talk about the situation in her country.

Germany has made health one of the priority areas of its 2015 G7 Presidency. The pledging conference is the first important milestone. Germany is hosting the conference under the patronage of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"The G7 Presidency will lend strong momentum to many development policy issues," Müller says. " I am grateful to the Chancellor for her committed support for our priorities, which include such matters as the new global development goals and strengthening health systems in developing countries."

German development cooperation support for health amounts to roughly 750 million euros a year. One focus is on fighting maternal and child mortality, two MDGs which most countries will miss by a large margin.

Not so in Tanzania: the east African country has achieved the fourth Millennium Development Goal – reducing child mortality by two thirds – even before the deadline. This was possible, because Tanzania invested in basic health care at an early stage. This includes immunisation programmes aimed at protecting children from diarrhoea or pneumonia. Over the past few years, Germany has specifically supported these immunisation programmes, thus contributing to their success.