European governments have agreed a new global health strategy, but the financial crisis has placed limits on many member states’ funding for multilateral health initiatives.
In May 2010, the European Council released conclusions on an “EU Role in Global Health” in response to proposals from the European Commission. This is the first formal EU strategy in this area, although previous European agreements on health issues had recognised the need to address global challenges including AIDS and pandemic diseases. There have been growing concerns over poor progress on the health dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals (see also component 79).
The EU’s new strategy emphasises long-term goals – such as gradual reforms of the governance of the World Health Organization (WHO) – and it is too early to assess the EU’s performance against this document. In the meantime, 2010 saw EU member states and the Commission review existing commitments on global health. A gigantic UN conference on AIDS in Vienna in July highlighted that overall funds for fighting the disease had flatlined during the recession, although EU members led by the UK have continued to be important funders (Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland and Sweden are particularly generous relative to the size of their economies).
In October, the UN hosted a pledging conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), with a target of at least $13 billion in pledges. In the event, only $11.7 billion was committed, and health activists faulted EU members including Italy, Spain and Sweden for making no pledges. By contrast, France was praised for a pledge of over €1 billion, Germany made a €600 million offer, and the Commission significantly increased its pledge. The debate over support to GFATM was complicated in early 2011 by reports of corruption in a small number of projects. The WHO has highlighted that other multilateral health initiatives (including its own work) are markedly underfunded at present, while private foundations and pharmaceutical firms play a growing role in shaping global health spending.