Speech by Mr. Siddharth Chatterjee at the Connected for Shared Prosperity Forum

Video of this speech can be found here.

Colleagues from Huawei,

Ambassadors present,

Ladies and gentlemen:


It's an unusual moment for me because I'm coming from Africa, I'm not used to this sort of a crowd and gathering and I’m always having a mask on. And it's pretty rare to see a forum of this sort.


So let me start firstly, by congratulating China. I think what they have demonstrated in terms of a public health response, if the entire world were to emulate it, we probably would be flattening the curve of this pandemic a while ago, so a huge shout out to the government and the people of China for their discipline and resilience in ensuring this.


To me, this moment is quite personal in many ways because my relationship with Huawei goes back to 2014. I was then the head of the United Nations Population Fund and Kenya had many challenges and one of them being very, very high maternal mortality. We found that 15 counties, we did a bit of analysis, 15 counties used to contribute about 98% of the maternal deaths and of those 15 they were 6 that contributed to 50% of the deaths. And primarily deaths happen from postpartum hemorrhage, HIV and a lot of hypertension.


So we said, what is it that we could do? As a matter of fact, there are three companies that first spoke to me. One of them was Huawei. The second was Merck USA and the third was Phillips from the Netherlands. And soon that another 3 groups, so we had GlaxoSmithKline join us, Safaricom Foundation from Kenya and Kenya Healthcare Federation.


So what became fascinating in this enterprise was this was the first time that the United Nations family partner up with the private sector and go to six of the remotest parts of Kenya and, let me describe to you, ladies and gentlemen, when I'm talking about remote, I mean these are places which border Somalia, where populations are by and large living close to 100 to 200 years behind time.


We felt that the only way we can change the game is to address this through harnessing big data technology and innovation. In a matter of 2.5 years, this partnership led to a one third reduction of maternal mortality, which in many countries would probably take anywhere from 10 to 15 years, which got us invited to the World Economic Forum in 2017 in January.


Now, at the World Economic Forum, basically why they were interested was this was not a discussion at a web forum or at the UN headquarters. This is real. This was tangible. This was measurable. This was a touchable, photographable. The point was that a partnership that emerged there actually may become the harbinger of the new form of multilateralism that we're going to see in the post pandemic recovery. We unlocked about $15 million from the trust fund. The private sector partners were not seen as donors to the UN, they were seen as real partners. They had a seat on the table.


And then the foreign minister of Kenya launched a public private partnership platform during the UN General Assembly of 2017. This was the first ever attempt with a US company, a Chinese company, a Dutch company, a Kenyan company, a British company. What we found was the convergence of ideas, aspirations, innovations was where the trick really lay. When we launched this platform, there were six companies and that Huawei was part of the founding of that. Today it's grown to about 80 or so companies. The $15 million investment has turned into $150 million public private enterprise. The reality is that today COVID has reminded us that it will be the digital footprint that is going to change public health.


And in fact, when you talk about the Sustainable Development Goals, Sustainable Development Goal 3 is going to be the anchor around which you will see the success of the remaining SDGs, that’s clear. In fact, if you recall, there was a Greek philosopher by the name of Herophilus. Herophilus said in 265 BC that basically without health, we don't have strength, or wit, or intelligence, or wealth. Basically, that philosophy has come back. Why the primacy of SDG 3, which is part of the first five goals of the SDGs, which is the unfinished business, has become prime.


Therefore, what we found by the embrace of big data technology and innovation we were able to rapidly reduce maternal mortality. Imagine what potential there is. Today, if you went to Google “BBC Kibera slums, Kenya”, you will find a midwife with a backpack, walking inside the slums, going house to house, able to deliver a child. She has devices which are technologically absolutely at another spectrum. She's able to loop into OB/GYN through video. She has devices that she can take care of the full anti-natal visits of a woman and including a delivery.


So just goes to show that we worth to create an army of tech-savvy community health workers, quite similar if you remember the echo of the barefoot doctors of China, now just imagine that the same, community health volunteers become the drivers of health care.


And finally, health care is about prevention. I think what we have already seen is that the level of the flu influenza has dropped suddenly. And one begins to wonder why. Recently I was listening to a BBC program and they actually said that the reality is that the flu influenza, because we've embraced certain public health measures, such as washing our hands, such as wearing a mask, such as keeping a physical distancing, such as respiratory etiquette, has started to reduce the influenza’s rate. So maybe what we would be coming out with is far more resilience and far more robust health system, because this perhaps is not the last pandemic but a reminder that our survival, our existentialism is based on good health. And that is going to be foundationally aspected through technology.


Therefore, the new multilateralism will include technology from the Silicon Valley to Shenzhen, from Africa to South America. It needs everybody in this game. It needs the private sector, it needs the government, it needs civil society, it needs foundations, but above all, it needs 3 “P”s,  and the first “P” is political will. Nation states that demonstrate political will, as we've seen in China, like I said, to me, this is a surprise that I am actually being able to stand here in an audience of this sort and know that fully well that I may not get infected. That's remarkable. This is quite remarkable that actually, there is that level of confidence. and I experience that during the 3 weeks of my quarantine, which is a moment to pause.


The second thing is going to be, how do we influence public policy and implement it together. The third is going to be the new form of multilateralism, which is going to be new partnerships, unorthodox, where your traditional partners…the ecosystems have changed, because governments will not be able to unlock that kind of financing that used to be available in the Pre-COVID time. What we're looking at a COVID time that we are seeing an economic crisis that rivals the Great Depression of the 1930s. We suddenly find the Keynesian form of economics has come back into the fore and governments are bailing out the private sector, and we're seeing all that happen. It will be the private sector. It will be foundations who will be the prime movers. And that is why the political will and the public policy is going to be mission critical. To this, I see that the United Nations family, we are playing a vital role. In fact, this is also what the Secretary-General talks about is making the United Nations “fit for purpose”. We have a choice for the UN too. We can either be dynamic or we can be dinosaurs. That momentum of dynamism has been injected into the UN system by the Secretary-General, whose been very clear. He wants to see a United Nations which is fit for purpose, as every one of the member states expects us to be. He wants the United Nations to “deliver as one”. That means in China, here is my commitment, It's my second week at work, is that the entire 27 UN funds and programs and specialized agencies will come together, work with the private sector, impact the SDGs both locally and globally.


And the third is a UN which is completely fit for purpose. Fit for purpose to the context of our new reality. And that new reality is the Decade of Action that we have to flip the orthodoxy to achieve the SDGs.


Thank you very much.

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