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Does The G-8 Still Have A Role In Global Health?

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (left) and French President Nicolas Sarkozy meet at the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario.
Eric Feferberg
AFP/Getty Images
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (left) and French President Nicolas Sarkozy meet at the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario.

The leaders from the top countries around the world gather in Canada this weekend, to talk about the global economy, financial regulation and security.

But there's a health question at play for the meeting of the Group of 8: Does the group — which last year gave an estimated $82 billion in aid — still have a significant role to play in global health?

The answer is increasingly looking like a no.

For more than 30 years, leaders of the top developed countries have committed to addressing major global issues -- such as debt relief, the scourge of malaria and the eradication of polio -- at their annual summits. But the follow-up on pledges tends to be weak, and have led some to question the group's credibility.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs laid out the criticism in advance of this year's summit, saying leaders would probably try "duck out" of questions about commitment. If that happens, Sachs said, "In my view this would essentially be the end of the G-8 as a credible instrument."

But even beyond doubts about accountability, some observers suggest the group's overall influence, and by association, its ability to improve health in the poorest countries, is waning.

"Many former G-7/8 'sherpas' — as the organizers for each country's delegation are called — say the G-8 is on its last legs," writes Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council of Foreign Relations.

That's a major problem for global health funding because it's the G-8 that's "largely" responsible for the "exponential increase in global health funding that now puts more than $25 billion worth of resources into the field annually."

While the G-8's influence wanes, many are taking the G-20 more seriously and suggesting it should broaden its scope and deal with certain international health issues.

"The G-20 already recognises the axis between the global economy, security, health, and development, and could be at the centre of a broad historic debate that will stretch out over the next several years," according to a perspective published online in The Lancet this week.

The authors, including the former executive director of UNAIDS, hash out the role the G-20 could play in promoting better health worldwide: "Just a few drops of the G-20's distinctive potion could ensure the health and wellbeing of millions."

A Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial also made the point that the more "inclusive" G-20 might be a better forum for addressing health issues. The G8 "seems to be the wrong forum to seek real progress on global health issues," it said.

Whether or not the G-20 takes on the traditional G-8's role is unclear. But for now, health isn't mentioned on the current summit's theme page.

Copyright 2023 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit Kaiser Health News.

Jaclyn Schiff