On July 11, 2011, Health Ministers from the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—came together in Beijing for the BRICS Health Ministers’ Meeting. The primary focus of the meeting was to discuss these countries’ role in providing wider access to quality and affordable health care around the world. The meeting concluded with the Health Ministers signing of the ‘Beijing Declaration,’ which called for collaboration with international health organizations, as well as with each other. These collaborations would hopefully yield the promotion of technology transfer and accessibility to “affordable, quality, efficacious, safe medical products and other health technologies” in developing countries. The Declaration also stressed the importance of reforming international organizations like WHO in order to improve transparency, efficiency, and accountability.
The Health Ministers collectively acknowledged the lack of access to health care and affordable medicine in their own countries, and recognized the benefit of this collaboration and technology transfer to significant portions of their populations. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, who also attended the Ministers’ Meeting, spoke to the unique position of BRICS nations of being “a voice with incredible economic, technological and innovative strength…[that is] intimately connected to the needs and interests of the developing world” (unaids.org).
The increasing economic power of the BRICS countries in the global economy does place them in an interesting, new arena of foreign aid. These five nations account for 40 percent of the world’s population, 18 percent of global trade, and 45 percent of current growth. However, in four out of five of the BRICS countries, two thirds of the people who need HIV treatment are not receiving it. Are these countries really in a position to bring about real, substantial change to the way health care is accessed in the world?
Sidibé says yes. “It will help us to change the course of debate on public health by bringing to the center the voice of the poorest segment of society by making sure that social justice and the redistribution of opportunities will become a major aspect of the way we deliver public goods to the people,” he says. South African Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi stated that the BRICS countries could form a strong partnership with international health organizations because they are the ones that have the “most of the affordable drugs… to supply the developing world.” An example of this is the new meningitis conjugate vaccine developed by the Serum Institute of India, with an estimated cost of only 50 cents a dose. Because these countries share similar health care challenges in their own countries, they have the unique understanding of the problem of accessibility. This could yield a more informed and effective approach to efforts of improving health care systems worldwide.
In light of the recently approved legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives that proposes deep cuts to the foreign aid budget, the entrance of the BRICS nations into the foreign assistance arena could not come at a better time. As these countries seek greater influence in the global development community, the world could see a significant shift in how international aid is administered, and ultimately, what this means for the overall global economy. It is up to us to decide what the role of the U.S. will be in that change.
For more information on the first BRICS Health Ministers Meeting, go to <http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/BRICS-countries-vow-to-help-poor-nations-in-health-1460626.php>.