Intended for healthcare professionals


A new global health strategy for Germany

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 26 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l4662
  1. Ilona Kickbusch, director1,
  2. Jeremy Farrar, director2,
  3. Megan Challis, policy manager3
  1. 1Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland
  2. 2Wellcome Trust, London, UK
  3. 3Wellcome Trust, Berlin, Germany
  1. Correspondence to: I Kickbusch kickbusch{at}

The strategy must be founded on Germany’s unwavering support for multilateralism

In recent years, Germany has strengthened its commitment to global health by increasing its political voice through its G7 and G20 presidencies and through enhanced support for multilateral and bilateral partnerships. Germany has become one of the strongest supporters of the World Health Organization and other international agencies.12

The federal government has approached its commitment to global health with openness, seeking out a wide range of perspectives by establishing an international advisory board in 2017. The board includes experts from Africa, South Asia, Europe, North and South America, as well as Germany and was asked to advise the federal government on developing a new global health strategy.

Germany stands out internationally in choosing to bring outside perspectives to strategy development in this formalised way. The board met with a wide range of German stakeholders, parliamentarians, and ministries over two years and submitted its recommendations to the government on 7 June. The full statement is now publicly available.3

International leadership

The most important recommendation is for Germany to extend its political leadership and continue to push for multilateral solutions to global challenges such as epidemic preparedness and antimicrobial resistance. This is the single biggest contribution Germany could make to global health.

The recommendations encourage Germany to be ambitious as well as strategic. They take as a starting point the defining feature of German foreign policy—a steadfast commitment to multilateralism—seeing this as integral to its global health strategy expressed through support for strong global governance.

Germany also needs to reinforce the common values required to tackle increasingly complex global health challenges. The country has the opportunity to strongly reaffirm its commitment to human rights, reducing health inequalities, and achieving universal health coverage, fully aligned with the transformative policy challenges set by the United Nation’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs).4

The advisory board recommends strongly that Germany puts global health at the top of its agenda for the EU presidency in 2020. During its presidency, the federal government can help identify interventions that all EU members can implement to achieve SDG3 (“ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”) in areas such as development, health, research, environment, and trade.

Domestic priorities

The board also emphasises the need to strengthen Germany’s global health base at home by reducing dependence on the leadership of a few individuals and developing stronger domestic global health infrastructure. The new strategy must support the establishment of the global health discipline within Germany and must invest urgently in university and institute based science, research, and teaching.

Some progress has already been made, including a new subcommittee on global health in the German parliament, increased budgets for global health in several ministries, a new global health hub in Berlin, and new centres for global health in several German universities. We need strong academic leadership in global health with an interdisciplinary mindset, and the research platform recently established by the Ministry of Education and Research5 should help ensure an interdisciplinary approach in all future research efforts.

Another recommendation is the creation of a Global Health Innovation Institute. The institute, whether virtual or real, could bring together world leading researchers in diverse disciplines such as engineering, biomedical, social, and political sciences with young ambitious students in an epicentre of creativity and invention. Investing in the innovators of the future and creating opportunities and a clear career path for young people in global health will help nurture and grow Germany’s global health community and its future leaders.

There remains a need for greater coherence and cooperation among the many ministries that now have a greater interest in global health. The board proposes several options for cross governmental coordination, including a high level advisory board and a global health ambassador. It also argues for extensive public engagement and involvement of civil society organisations.

The board hopes that its statement and recommendations will be widely discussed in Germany and beyond, including by those who want to partner with Germany on global health. We encourage the federal government to be ambitious and creative in developing its new strategy because both interest in, and funding for, global health are at a critical juncture. It is now more vital than ever that countries prioritise global health on national agendas as something that is relevant to and benefits us all.


  • Competing interests: We have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and declare that IK and JF are members of the international advisory board.

  • Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.