Russia's Global Health Leadership
June 3, 2011
Director, Eurasia Health Project and Senior Associate (Non-resident), Russia and Eurasia Program
On May 19, 2011, in Moscow, the Russia and Eurasia Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington) and the International Organizations Research Institute of the Higher School of Economics (Moscow) co-hosted a one-day conference on Russia’s global health leadership. The meeting’s discussions centered on two key points:
- Russia and international organizations: To date, Russia’s contributions to global health have been channeled almost exclusively through multilateral organizations. The 2006 G8 meeting in St. Petersburg, under Russia’s presidency, was the first to highlight global health as a central priority. With the emergence of non-communicable diseases as a central global health theme – and with Russia as the host of this year’s first global ministerial conference on healthy lifestyles and NCDs – health and NCDs may emerge as a key part of the near-term G20 conversation as well, framed as a labor force issue. The 2006 G8 appears to have been a major catalyst for Russia’s development of a preliminary concept for overseas development assistance (its 2007 Concept Paper), and it is probable that a future global event, where Russia is at the helm, will provide the impetus for the next step in the evolution of Russia’s capacity for health leadership. Specifically, it will take an international “push” for Russia’s initial efforts at institutional development to culminate in the formation of an agency charged with the mission of development assistance (a Russian version of USAID or DfID).
- Limited, but growing, capacity and interest in bilateral assistance: Although there is generic support for global health involvement among the Russian leadership, there are still no key domestic players to act as “champions” in this area. Expertise and capacity are being developed through “triangular cooperation” relationships matching Russia with the World Bank, UNDP, or USAID, and recipient countries. The challenges for these and similar efforts, however, are daunting. Not many Russian physicians speak English, and few are trained according to international standards. Russian universities offer little training that would produce the necessary human resources to develop and implement bilateral assistance projects or programs. And the non-governmental organizations that might have the capacity for effective international action do not enjoy the trust of the government.
Overall, the meeting concluded that action on overseas development assistance in general, and specifically on health, is increasingly expected of Russia. To meet these obligations as a responsible member of the international community, the Russian government should articulate a clear strategy for health leadership. This strategy should engage the country in an appropriate balance of multilateral and bilateral efforts, with institutional responsibility for formulating and implementing projects unambiguously defined. For bilateral assistance projects, focus should be placed on a relatively limited number of recipient countries where it is possible to make a tangible, evaluable contribution. Central Asian countries – which share with Russia a common language, health profile, and legacy of the Soviet health system – are likely to remain the most appropriate candidates.
Russia’s top political leaders are searching for vehicles to demonstrate expanding global responsibility and influence. Health can be an important venue and issue area for Russia’s global leadership aspirations, but only if approached carefully and responsibly, with thoughtful strategy and institutional development preceding substantial allocation of resources and action.