Today and tomorrow, the African Union and my country of Ethiopia are proudly hosting the first Core Group Meeting of the Munich Security Conference held on the African continent. Senior leaders from Africa, Europe and the U.S. have gathered in Addis Ababa to exchange ideas on how we can work together to fight against violent extremism and address the dangers posed by epidemics, health emergencies and climate change. The issues on the table are many, but the core challenge is the same: How can we advance peace and prosperity in the face of both new and familiar crises?
Like other conflict affected regions, Africa continues to see religious, ethnic and politically motivated conflicts. Extremist violence is now entrenched in several parts of the world. Armed conflicts are leading to protracted refugee crises to the scale that has not been seen since World War II. The specter of climate change threatens worsening natural disasters, rapid urbanization, forced migration, and economic hardship for the most vulnerable. Despite significant global advances, inability to effectively address epidemics and health emergencies still prevail and continuously threaten global health security and economic development. The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa is a case in point. We are in an era where we cannot separate the intricate link of peace, prosperity and health security.
Prior to joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was the Minister of Health of Ethiopia for seven years. Health is both the foundation of my academic and professional careers and a personal passion. I know first-hand the important role health security plays in protecting lives and preventing the spread of disease. Health is an end in itself. Stabilizing economies and reducing political and civil strife are means to development, and, as such, are part of the approach for promoting healthy populations.
During my time as Minister of Health, our team implemented Ethiopia’s first integrated disease surveillance and response network, which enabled us to track and promptly report diseases in alignment with the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations of 2005. To further advance this national capacity of preparedness and response we also prioritized training leading to an adequate and efficient human workforce. These types of systems and national capacities are absolutely critical to prevent threats to health security and subsequent economic decimation, and so are the lessons from the recent Ebola crises in West Africa.
We must do more to yield dividends to the health sector. We need to invest in education, agriculture and economy-building institutions, as well as development of pragmatic policies for good governance to continue to strengthen democracy. We need to resolve conflicts and build peace. Within the Ethiopia Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have the opportunity to help resolve regional disputes — such as in Somalia, South Sudan and others — leading to improved regional political stability.
In conclusion, we have to streamline health in our global security conversations and initiatives. We must invest to build resilient national health systems that are responsive to the threats of the 21st century. At this first Core Group Meeting, where I am speaking as Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, I intend to give voice to the cause.