Tore Godal turns 75
Congratulate Tore on twitter
In global health today there is one name that often gets mentioned, with respect and awe. It’s a Norwegian name and belongs to Tore Godal, originally from Rauland, a small mountain village in Telemark with only 1500 inhabitants. Internationally Tore has gained much respect for his work to promote global health. He has been instrumental in saving millions of lives and untangling the health problems at the root of poverty. He continues to set the global health agenda with political leaders at home and abroad. Godal has a special and unique ability as a door opener between governments, health ministers and other key players – this combination contributes to raising global health on the political agenda, in a way never seen before.
It looks like health will continue to be an important part of the new MDGs - post 2015. Godal has been instrumental with others in ensuring this. He is on an exclusive list of the 100 most influential people in regard to the work of reaching the UN Millennium Development Goal nr. 5: To improve maternal health and achieve universal access to reproductive health.
For those of us who know and work with Tore, we can confirm that this is a man of few words, but much action and results. He always keeps a low profile in public and is mostly concerned about results in the field. There are many reasons to honour Tore Godal. Former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said "Tore Godal’s efforts to help poor people to better health must not be underestimated. He is surely, after Fridtjof Nansen the Norwegian who has saved most lives in the world. "
A doctor for the whole world
Many believe that it all started when Godal defended his PhD and was asked if he would go to Ethiopia with Professor Morten Harboe to do research on leprosy at the Armauer Hansen Research Institute. Godal himself has said that he jumped at the chance because he wanted to see Africa, before settling down in Norway in one of the alpine valleys of his youth as a district doctor.
Godal always had grand dreams. But these wore not formed at medical school. These were manifested at a very early age through the fairy tales of his mother. These stories stimulated his imagination and desire for adventure. The first stop of his life saving adventures was when he became director of the Armauer Hansen Research Institute in Addis Ababa (1970-1972). To this day reference is often made to his important research in Ethiopia. He discovered among other things that skin lesions and nerve damage of leprosy were caused not by the infection, but by the body’s inflammation response. The findings explained why the anti-inflammatory cortisone was so useful in treating the disease.
After Ethiopia, Godal realized he had found his calling. He felt he needed to do something with all the insight that he had accumulated into leprosy. Instead of returning home to Norway, he left for World Health Organization in Geneva, where he organised a clinical trial for a drug combination that has now become the standard therapy for leprosy.
In 1986 Godal took a permanent position with WHO, where his interest for low-tech interventions in global health escalated. He organized in 1994 a cross country massive clinical trial to test how well insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets worked. With these research findings WHO changed its strategy virtually overnight. This has saved millions of lives in Africa. The number of children that die of malaria each year has more than halved. I think it is significant that this measure, nearly 20 years later, is still considered one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions. Tore was instrumental in making this happen, and defines this as one of his major achievements.
GAVI's founding father
Tore Godal is also well known for his leadership of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, GAVI, starting with its foundation in 2000. At the time Gro Harlem Brundtland was appointed Director General of the World Health Organization and Godal served as a special advisor. Together they discussed the possibilities of scaling up highly cost-effective health interventions, making vaccines available to the poorest of the poor.
With USD 750 million in support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the fund was born, and Godal’s five-person team commenced their work in supporting vaccination projects from the basement out of the UNICEF offices in Geneva. The risk of the project was enormous. Demands for results, even more massive. Only four years after, Bill Gates expressed that it was the best investment he had ever made. Through GAVI millions of children have been vaccinated and over five million lives are saved to date.
Scaling up low-tech cost effective solutions
Describing Godal, Bill Gates says he has the ability to put health on the agenda and get ideas and innovation to be embraced at the highest level. In Norad we could not agree more. Despite his high-tech education and work experience here in Norway, Godal has embraced low-tech cost effective solutions that are scalable in resource poor settings. He also establishes effective partnerships, such as collaborating with private companies to securing free drugs in the treatment of river blindness, and volume guarantees that help make contraceptive implants available to millions of women who do not want to become pregnant.
Since the world-renowned immunologist started to work as a special advisor in the Prime Minister's office in 2005, we have had the pleasure of a close collaboration. Without a doubt, Godal has been central to Norway’s leadership role in various aspects within global health. His professional relationship with Norad has been of great value to us. I would particularly like to highlight his ability to make research relevant for important decisions in political forums, and likewise ensure that evidence is used when implementing political decision. This is essential for implementing measures that save lives.
Godal has also been instrumental in efforts to develop results-based financing for health. In a number of countries, including India, we see that economic incentives encourage women to go to health facilities during their pregnancy and at childbirth. This too has helped save lives. Performance-based financing of health in developing countries may definitely be an important means to improve provision and quality of care, as well as access and use of services. This will be critical in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals in terms of health.
Godal has also been a part of the establishment of the Health Results Innovation Trust Fund at the World Bank. Funded by Norway and the UK the fund has $ 550 million at its disposal. It currently supports 36 programs in 31 countries.
Great progress to date, but more to do
Since Godal conducted research in Ethiopia in the 1970s, there has been an amazing progress in global health. He deserves salutations for this. Since the MDGs started, 6.5 million children are saved from dying every year. As Godal himself says: "A million more and we will reach the Millennium Development Goal, however, this is not enough. There are still four million dying from diseases that can be prevented." Therefore, it is important to continue to fight for maternal and child health in the future. Tore’s efforts have made this easier for the rest of us. His assignments at the Foreign Ministry are critical and essential for not only the last push to achieve the MDGs in 2015, but the preparations for the new MDGs post-2015. We look forward to continue our work with him in his quest to secure the right of health services for the world's poor.
In regards to his commitment to promote health, he once said: "I travelled far because of my deep interest in tropical medicine. My interest became a chronic infection."
This is probably the only "infection" we are grateful that nothing or no one has eradicated. Tore has elegantly overcome all possible hurdles and obstacles, - be it political battles, scientific disagreements or scarce resources.
How to adequately pay homage to a man who has helped and changed the lives of so many people? From the Health Section here in Norad, we simply say Happy Birthday and thank you for all your fine efforts for the world's poor.
Head of Health