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An Interview with Dr. Mariam Claeson

By Dr. Shariha Khalid Erichsen; Managing Partner Mission & Co

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Every year in 50 countries across the world, more than 5 million mothers and children die from preventable conditions and their economies lose billions of dollars to poor health and nutrition. The need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths by 2030 is urgent. We have just 12 years to finish the job and we know what needs to be done.

We must fill a large annual financing gap so that women’s, children’s, and adolescents’ health and nutrition is prioritized and funded. The Global Financing Facility (GFF), hosted by the World Bank provides the technical know-how and a proven innovative financing model that will help us to close the gap. A recent report showed that as many as 35 million lives can be saved if the GFF partnership extends its reach to 50 countries with the highest burden of preventable deaths of women, children, and adolescents.

Dr. Shariha Khalid Erichsen spoke with the Director of GFF at the SDG Media Zone to discuss the future of their work and how we can all work to close funding gaps to achieve the Global Goals.

Dr. Shariha: Good Morning! We’re here at the SDG Media Zone and I have the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Mariam Claeson who is the director of the Global Financing Facility (GFF). Good morning Mariam and thank you for talking to us. Can you tell us a bit more about what the GFF is and what you’re hoping to achieve with this facility?

Dr. Mariam: Thank you, and good morning! So the Global Financing Facility is a new innovative mechanism to ensure financing for women’s, children’s and adolescent’s health and nutrition. It’s a new way of doing financing — using small amount of resources to really capitalize on other sources of financing. We are about smart, scaled and sustainable financing — we think this is the way to go in the SDG era.

Dr Shariha: You are talking about something really important — because we’re all here at the UN General Assembly to try and find out how we can deliver on the SDGs and the financing gap of USD2 trillion every year from now until 2030 — it’s a huge gap to fill! How is the GFF contributing to closing this financing gap?

Dr Mariam: You’re absolutely right, that is the big challenge. And the fact is, as we speak here today, we haven’t started to bend the curve on the elimination of preventable deaths for women, children and adolescents. So, we have a long way to go, and we have to accelerate this now.

What we are trying to do at the GFF is to support that country-driven, country-platform where countries set their priorities by taking into account the context in which they operate to ensure that financing goes to those women, children and adolescents who have been left behind. And what we do is we support the country to really identify the most important, high-impact priorities for women, children and adolescents. Then we take this investment case to work with Ministers of Finance and catalyse domestic resources.

We try to get bilateral organisations to bring in complementary finance and to align around that country investment case. Then we bring concessional financing from the World Bank, linking US$1 of GFF funding to $7 of World Bank funding, so that gives you scale and finally, we crowd in also from the private sector capital — that’s how we think that huge financing gap can be closed. Maybe not fully, but we have made huge progress towards closing that gap and in trying to make progress on those goals and targets and at the same time, actually supporting countries in establishing more sustainable approaches to financing.

Dr Shariha: There are a lot of people who are just taking action locally where they are. We see certainly in our line of work, that a lot of innovators are emerging and trying to come up with solutions. I would be very interested to know, and I’m sure the audience would too — if you’re an innovator on the ground or someone from the private sector — how do you get involved with what you’re working on?

Dr Mariam: Well this is, as you say, a great opportunity to tap into innovations across the board. The fact that we support a country-led, multi-stakeholder platform, we feel it is so important that the innovators, the private sector and all parties come together in the design of the investment case, so they are at the table from the beginning. Then countries can really learn how to work in a trusting relationship with the private sector in an enabling environment where all these activities come to bear.

We do not think that we can reach the SDGs without that and for us, one of the contributions we feel we can make to this effort is also to create that community health system where different innovators can plug in ideas, and disruptive technologies — whatever it takes to actually reach those that have the need. It’s a huge opportunity.

Dr Shariha: Fantastic, thank you. Maybe share with us, what is the next big thing for Global Health — what’s the need, what’s the opportunity?

Dr Mariam: I think that the big, big ask now is to harmonize our actions — to coordinate, to collaborate, to shift the focus from global events like this to the country level. And as you said, tapping into the local communities. It has to be, not the last mile, but the frontline first. So, if you rethink where the needs are and work out a way towards events like this, I think that is the big change that has to happen. Harmonizing around investments in the field.

Dr Shariha: Thank you so much Mariam for joining us. The work you are doing is really amazing, and I hope that together we can make this happen.

Dr Mariam: Thank you so much for having me.

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