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Newsletter 10, 19th May 2011

Over the past 18 months, Economic Governance for Health (EG4H) has continued to spread the message on the importance of global economic reform for health outcomes – and campaigned widely on issues including tax reform, and improved accountability for international institutions. 2011 is proving to be a very big year for economic governance and health; we’re reviving the EG4H newsletter to help you stay abreast of developments in this fast-changing field.

In this newsletter from EG4H…

  • Call for EG4H ‘Outreachers’
  • News round-up: details on the relentless progress of Robin Hood Tax campaign; interesting changes at the IMF and World Bank; and WHO’s consultation on social determinants of health
  • Just out: links to some important recent writing on global economic governance and health
  • A brief update on student branch activities
  • How you can get involved

But first: are you interested in helping us get the word out about the importance of economic governance for health?

Would you like to do more and join our active Campaign Outreach Network? We have an expanding number of ‘Outreachers’ who help amplify our message. Typically they do this by:

  • Forwarding information about EG4H to their own network of contacts and lists;
  • Encouraging people to respond to an EG4H request or to take action on a campaign issue;
  • Translating EG4H primers or communications into additional languages – at the moment we are particularly interested in hearing from members who might be able to help translate materials into French and Spanish, but we’d welcome contributions in other languages too.

If you are interested in joining this network of active campaigners, or can suggest organizations – or better still key people within those organizations – whom we should contact, please send an email to taavi@eg4health.org.

News round-up

1. The relentless progress of the Financial Transactions (Robin Hood) Tax

It’s been an astonishing year for the Robin Hood Tax campaign, which EG4H has been supporting since its inception. Over the past 12 months, the campaign has moved from a fringe interest to something resembling a popular movement – despite its focus on a rather technical aspect of the global economic system. We’ve run a few stories on the EG4H blog outlining findings from empirical research on the likely impact of a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT), and the evidence is that it could raise substantial sums of money for global health objectives.

Lately, public expressions of support have also been provided by leading economists and by senior political figures including French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, and there are now strong indications that proposals for a FTTs will receive a positive airing at the G20 summit in Cannes later this year. A word of caution, though: US and UK government opposition to the proposals may yet sink all the good work. Both Barack Obama and George Osborne (the UK Finance Minister) are known to harbour reservations about FTTs, favouring a more limited tax on financial activities, including bonuses. Follow the EG4H blog and tweets for regular updates.

2. Winds of change at the IMF and World Bank?

There have been interesting signs from both the IMF and World Bank in recent months that a change of approach may be in the offing. The two triggers for this seem to have been (1) surprisingly punishing internal policy reviews addressing the IMF’s role in the run-up to the financial crisis, and (2) the “Arab Spring” revolutions (of which more on the EG4H blog, here.

Ultimately, though, it’s too early to say whether these signs actually will herald meaningful change. Although the IMF’s change of heart on capital controls was positively received, admissions of guilt over IFI involvement in propping up autocratic regimes in the Middle East have yet to translate into meaningful policy changes there. Moreover, as briefings by our colleagues at the Bretton Woods Project point out, recent discussions on governance reform at the IMF and World Bank have so far drawn a blank. Finally, events of the past few days have inevitably cast fresh doubt over the future leadership of the IMF.

Just out!

Some important research has emerged in the past few months which will be of relevance EG4H members; highlights include:

  • WHO is seeking responses to a consultation on a discussion paper on social determinants of health, in advance of its World Conference on the same subject in November. The paper emphasises the role of community organisations, and recognises the need for greater alignment of priorities between international institutions with a stake in the global health field, but is short on detail – notably on IFI reform, and the need for increased transparency and accountability. EG4H will likely be responding to the consultation to raise these and other issues.
  • A paper from Devi Sridhar and others in JAMA outlines a common-sense approach to reform of the WHO to try to restore its position in the global health field. Although a welcome effort to revive long-standing questions about renewal of the organisation, the paper misses a crucial trick by side-stepping its relationship with other key institutional players in the global health field, and particularly the IFIs.
  • Larry Gostin and others are calling for a movement for global health governance reform, and re-opening the debate launched by Gorik Ooms a few years ago on the need for a “Social Fund” to guarantee stable funding flows for health.
  • The WHO Bulletin carries an interesting article on the rise of well-being measures as an alternative to GDP. While the move away from a narrow focus on GDP in the UK and elsewhere is to be welcomed, there will be legitimate concerns that it should not be used as cover for inattention to fundamental structural drivers of inequality and ill-health.

Brief update on student activities

It’s been a busy year for EG4H’s student branch. EG4H representatives Taavi Tillmann and Sharif Ismail have presented at 3 conferences in the UK, on issues ranging from the impact of the financial crisis on global health, to equitable health financing. More recently, EG4H steering committee member Taavi Tillmann presented at the EU Regional Meeting of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA) in Spain. Altogether, this has resulted in bumper recruitment – with more than 60 students from the UK and elsewhere in Europe joining as members this academic year. In the past week, Khalil Secker from Manchester University has been elected as the student coordinator for the UK for 2011-12, and will be working closely with current EG4H Steering Committee members to help increase awareness and campaigning activities in the coming year. There is much, much more work to be done, however: for now EG4H students remains a largely UK-based affair, and we are very keen to hear from anyone who might be interested in setting up student branches internationally. Email sharif@eg4health.org if you are interested in setting up a branch.

How you can get involved?

  • Follow us, via the website, on facebook, or on twitter
  • Sign up to campaigns: we’re currently supporting the Robin Hood Tax and UN Parliamentary Assembly campaigns, both of which are international in focus; and a UK-based campaign led by The Equality Trust promoting reductions in income inequality. Links to all of these can be found on our website. Sign up!Volunteering with EG4H: EG4H is currently run on a voluntary basis. We are always looking for people to join us in the organisation and running of EG4H, and are particularly looking for assistance at the moment in the following areas:
    • Outreach: raising awareness of EG4H amongst the health community and encouraging people to sign up.
    • Translation: to help bring our educational materials to a wider audience.

If you are interested in helping with any of these areas, no matter how much time you have available, please contact taavi@eg4health.org. Students should

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