Why and how a new German government must expand Germany’s role in global health

As Co-Founder of the Virchow Foundation for Global Health and Chairman of the Board of GHA – German Health Alliance, Roland Göhde advocates for stronger German engagement in health cooperation. In October 2020, in the midst of the Corona pandemic, the German government’s new strategy on Global Health was adopted. It is now crucial to jointly transfer this strategy to a concrete, coherently designed implementation level.

from Roland Göhde | slightly abridged published in Tagesspiegel Background | October 22, 2021


The coronavirus pandemic has been showing us on a global scale for almost two years now how closely health is linked to almost all the other major issues and challenges of our lives and how important it is: First, in its most obvious meaning as health for every individual. Secondly, as a crucially important goal of health for all. And thirdly, in the realisation of how much health and efficient health systems interact directly with society, politics, the economy, climate and nutrition, among other things. This is not a new insight, as it is precisely this reciprocal causality that is impressively reflected in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda, which was adopted in September 2015.

Globally networked societies can only meet the associated challenges through a common understanding and approach to health protection, for example in vaccine production and distribution. In this overall context, health health must be understood as a Global Public Good and health system strengthening as a Global Public Investment.

Our country has developed, also thanks to political foresight, into a unique ecosystem for global health, consisting of internationally highly recognised academic and scientific institutions, medical institutions, as well as private, civil society and governmental actors.

Activities in these individual sectors link up with high-level conferences such as the World Health Summit in Berlin, networks such as the German Alliance for Global Health Research GLOHRA and basic information, platform and network structures such as the Global Health Hub Germany. The Global AMR R&D Hub for combating antimicrobial drug resistance and the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, which just opened on 1 September, in addition form international structures of this ecosystem based in Germany, which also includes the German offices of the world’s two largest foundations active in the health sector, the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

With the GHA – German Health Alliance with 120 member companies and organisations, a multi-sectoral initiative has existed for many years that is dedicated to strengthening health systems and has developed an important, effective interface between development cooperation and the health industry.

The Virchow Foundation for Global Health, which emerged from civil society engagement, will also make an important contribution to anchoring the understanding and importance of global health in the general public, among other things with the Virchow Prize for Global Health, which will be awarded annually in Berlin from 2022 onwards and is internationally high-ranking, prestigious and highly endowed.

Ultimately, the aforementioned and other pillars of German engagement in global health form a very special, globally unique, and at the same time highly potent structure of effects. However, this can only unfold successfully if the pillars are all stable, thought through coherently and interlinked in close cooperation.

Whether it is a matter of maintaining and strengthening Germany as a world-leading location for the industrial health sector, expanding it as a centre for scientific activities in global health or making it an even more politically engaged actor in development cooperation in the health sector – equally, the following measures, among others, should be implemented by a new federal government:

  1. The German government’s strategy on global health should be followed by a concrete joint implementation plan that consistently brings together and uses existing structures and expertise from the various sectors and disciplines..
  2. The new German government must take a proactive role in providing a political framework for the broad engagement of German actors in close cooperation with other countries and regions. Particularly in the area of health system strengthening, this requires extensive interministerial coherence, while implementation and measurement of success must be under scientific monitoring and validation.
  3. Health must be included in the highest priority thematic group in German development cooperation, which is still not implemented by the responsible Federal Ministry despite the current pandemic.

Under these central conditions, Germany can continue to fulfil its international role and responsibility to make a growing contribution to significant improvements and transformative changes towards quality-oriented, needs-based and resilient health systems with the best possible prevention and non-discriminatory access, especially together with and in poorer countries – also in order to be better prepared globally for the next pandemic.

In addition, challenges such as the rapidly growing incidence of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, the fight against infectious diseases and the strengthening of mother-child health can be addressed in a more targeted and sustainable way.

Resilient health systems are a basic prerequisite for sustainable positive socio-economic developments. Political, economic and societal commitment to this goal of sustainably shaping our world of tomorrow will go hand in hand even more successfully and effectively if the new federal government takes on global health even more strongly as a priority field of action and consistently involves the expertise-bearing actors of the various sectors together as a kind of “coalition for health”.