Education on the agenda at one of the world’s largest global health forums


UNESCO Assistant-Director General for Education, Stefania Giannini, made the case for education as the driving force of health and well-being at this year’s World Health Summit in Berlin, Germany, from 27 - 29 October 2019. 

Bringing together more than 2,500 researchers, physicians, government officials, and representatives from health industries from 100 countries, the Summit aims to improve health globally, by improving research, education, healthcare and policy outcomes.

Ms Giannini spoke at a plenary panel that included World Health Organization’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Vice President of Liberia, Jewel Howard-Taylor, Minister of Health of Brazil, Luiz Henrique, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for UHC and Member of the House of Councilors Japan, Keizo Takemi, and State Secretary of the German Ministry of Health, Thomas Steffen.

“When people achieve higher levels of education, this has a positive and demonstrable impact on health outcomes. Multiple recent studies have demonstrated this critical link, in particular for girls and young women, and how higher educational levels result in significantly reduced vulnerability to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, early marriage and early and unintended pregnancies,” Ms Giannini said.

“Girls with no education are three times as likely to marry by 18 as those with a secondary or higher education. We also know that an additional year of secondary schooling reduces risk of HIV infection by 12 percent among girls,” she added.

Tangible examples

Ms Giannini shared a tangible example of the critical link between education and health, namely UNESCO’s “Our rights, Our lives, Our future” (03) programme, which aims to reach more than 20 million learners in 32 countries with good quality comprehensive sexuality education, as part of education sector efforts to reduce new HIV infections, early and unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence, and child marriage. 

She explained how this programme is underpinned by ministers of education and health coming together for the landmark Eastern and Southern Africa Commitment to address the sexual and reproductive health and education needs of young people in the region, through a multi-sectoral effort with support from the UN. It also builds on UNESCO’s Strategy on Education for health and well-being, which reflects the growing international recognition that a more comprehensive approach to school health and coordinated action across sectors is needed.

In the global political landscape, UNESCO has joined hands with governments and development partners in the G7 and the G20 to accelerate action for girls’ and women’s education, recognising the benefits of educational attainment for other key outcomes in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including health.

This year’s World Health Summit looked at the impact of climate change on health, improving health systems in Africa and around the world, the fight against antimicrobial resistance, digital health, and implementing the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. The Summit is held under the high patronage of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.