Last week there was a meeting between David Cameron and leaders of major UK NGOs on the process to find the new set of development goals post 2015. Many issues were on the agenda, and it is a meeting which will have influence on the process, because Cameron is one of the triumvirate of national leaders that have been charged with taking forward this process.
Health was not on the agenda of that meeting, it would seem. Faith certainly was not. I have said more about these omissions and some of the fundamental problems with the whole notion of global development targets elsewhere. Not least is the dangerously patronising notion that we in the West have anything meaningful to say to the developing world about how best to lift itself out of poverty. Now, to be fair, there has been a considerable amount of input from the nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America into the consultation, but it still feels a very Western driven agenda to which they are being invited to participate, rather than something coming from their own concerns and needs. But that may just be my prejudices showing through.
Nevertheless, the British Government’s position worries me, not least because their focus is not on universal goals (including developed nations as well as developing), but on goals for the developing world only. It seems to be tied to a focus on economic issues (which is very much a symptom of late twentieth century Western capitalist groupthink), and health barely features at all.
The cross cutting priority for the UK’s agenda is equity – equity of access to health, education, and the means of lifting oneself out of poverty. That we are still a long way from such equity here in the UK makes this smell of hypocrisy. That our own health institutions have been found wanting and the need for trust to be rebuilt between the NHS and the citizen has not featured in their thinking (consider, for example the feeble and largely irrelevant government response to the Francis Report into Mid Staffs).
Yet I frequently meet with Christian organisations engaged in supporting churches and health entities in the developing world. They work to help these institutions to reconnect with their communities, address issues of trust, and get under the skin of the real needs, aspirations and hopes of local people. Real equity, real empowerment, and driven by a love of Jesus, a concern for God’s justice in the social and economic spheres, and a passion to see people flourish in spirit, body, mind and social relations. The vital contribution of both faith-based organisations and local faith communities to health was the subject of CMF’s recent submission, Faith Matters, to the World We Want 2015 consultation.
Our health institutions, our churches and our government need to learn lessons from Christians in Africa and Asia and Latin America. Why are we setting them goals for development that we cannot even consider for ourselves? Why do we presume to know best when they are ahead of us in so many areas? It’s time that we all got off our high horses and learnt to listen – to the global South, to our own communities here in the UK certainly, but above all to the Spirit and Word of God, reminding us that we all need a big dose of humility and a willingness to learn and be challenged by those we seek to lead.
My hope is that the British Government’s agenda for the post-MDGs does not derail the wider global concern that health remains high the agenda for new targets, and that the challenge offered by Christians, motivated by the good news of Jesus, working for health in the global South, would begin to permeate our thinking here in the UK, restoring trust, compassion and integrity to our health service.