The Bullet of the World Health Organization has issued a call for papers for a themed issue on “BRICS and global health to enhance people’s understanding of the dynamics of health and development in BRICS countries and of how these countries contribute to global health, both by improving health outcomes in their own territories and by engaging in mutual cooperation.” This is an important subject but the call for papers indulges a lot of ideas that are more substance than aspiration.

The CFP says, “Within BRICS countries, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. This has resulted in marked improvements in health outcomes and in substantial progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.” This is undoubtedly true although the wealth disparities and refusal to spend government money on health in several of the BRICS mean that hundreds of millions are firmly wedged in poverty and the health of these very poorest accounts for almost all of  the”about 40% of the global burden of disease” still found in the BRICs and noted later in the paper.

Much more speculative are the ideas that, “BRICS countries are becoming increasingly important partners in international development cooperation. They are helping to reshape the landscape of aid effectiveness” and “Inter-BRICS cooperation is gaining momentum, as highlighted in the recent meeting of ministers of health held on 10–11 January 2013 in New Delhi.” All of the references are to statements and analyses of literature, not old-fashioned OECD concepts like how much cash was spent and how many goods and services were purchased. Let’s hope the themed issue can find real money, real projects and real changes to document. Maybe the very fact of needing to describe these things will spur Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa into announcing meaningful funding of health in the least developed countries or mutual co-operation on the health of the poorest within their own borders

The WHO CFP references an interesting IMF paper but leaves out is description of ODA from the BRICS. It’s not development assistance at all, say the IMF authors, but “co-operation for mutual benefits” meaning that both sides (donor and recipient) must be able to show clear self interest from the project. How that works out in health will be fascinating