In 2012, the Global Health community is at a crossroads: politically, socially, economically and technologically. Facing some of the largest health challenges in history, we must critically re-think our approaches, our goals and our tools in order to maximise opportunities for meaningful progress.
Let’s explore three quick thought-bites, which we will build on in the coming months. A beginning for discussion and ideas.
In April this year, I was convinced, even coerced by my intern, to join the Twitter-age and open an account. Sceptical to say the least, I am now a total Twitter convert. The tools we have at hand today, mHealth technologies and social media to name just two, are some of our best tools in the modern global health armament. Not only has this source of global dialogue lent me new connections, collaborations and kept me up-to-date on the daily happenings around the globe, but these technologies themselves are now being used to monitor disease outbreaks; mitigate conflict-related injuries on a mass scale; and deliver diabetes and maternal and child health education to millions in the poorest regions of the world. With approximately 1 billion mobile users in each of China and India at June 2012, up to twice the number that have access to a toilet, the possibilities of this social connectedness for health cannot be underestimated.
Being linked not only strengthens opportunities for a common, collaborative response to our most serious global health threats, but also reminds us in real-time of the fact that we are one global community with a shared geopolitical and global health agenda.
Watch out for two upcoming discussions on this and related areas, including one from IT specialist and MD/MPH, Dr Fred Hersh…
Thought 2: Time for a change in our economic paradigm?
Moving forward we have many challenges, which as a global society we must acknowledge, digest and solve. Although we, as a community, don’t act like it, we live on a finite planet. One where a minority has much more than most others. Yet despite having much more, even these communities may be facing a declining lifespan and a future lifecourse less healthy than their parents’.
I believe this is partly because we are fixated on the wrong measures of “growth”. We currently measure development and social progress in purely fiscal terms and continue to look to measures such as GDP and economic growth as our key parameters for global successes. Let me remind you that a war can be beneficial for a GDP and that GDP gives no reflection of equity or equality of wealth, just a collective economic mass.
At some stage soon, we are going to have to totally change the economic model upon which we base our society, which in turn dictates our health. We cannot continue blindly pursuing fiscal growth at any cost, often at the expense of wellbeing, happiness and our environment. A world where we measure prosperity in health terms, and talk about global health crises in the same way we talk about global financial crises (and with the same urgency), would be a very different place with very different priorities. And I would argue this different world would not only be healthier and more sustainable, but is probably the only world that will survive into the 22nd and 23rd centuries.
In this domain, health economist Jason Calvert will be writing on key economic concepts for Global Health. Jason brings economic pragmatism, health-know-how… and a twist. In particular, he will explore themes such as economic development, efficiency in resource allocation including international development aid and will delve into the fascinating world of economic tools for incentivising healthier population outcomes.
Thought 3: Horizontal, integrated approaches to Global Health issues can and must be achieved.
Despite great progress, our global health community has a lot to achieve in the coming decades, with increasingly less. The unfinished agenda of HIV and TB; climate change and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) to just name a few. As a collective, we must look more to opportunities for common progress and gains, and less to siloed protectionist-style initiatives as we have seen in the past few decades. When the UN High Level Meeting was held on NCDs in 2011, it was decided early on that there would be no ‘UNAIDS’ for this group of diseases. No separate UN agency, but rather that NCDs would remain part of the agenda for WHO and existing UN bodies. This is because we must get smarter about these defining health issues which in fact are not even just health issues, but described by Ban Ki-Moon as global crises – political, economic, environmental, social and cultural.
You see, NCDs and Climate Change have the same causes and largely require the same solutions, yet we separate their responses and those commanded with their mitigation – inter-government, government and non-government. Health is dependent on a healthy environment, urban and natural. Whether between disease groups, for example the opportunities for the HIV, TB and diabetes communities to work together are enormous, or between ministries such as health, trade and transport, health must become something bigger than the doctor, or even the health system. Achieving health with less resources and for more of the population, must be a shared priority across all levels and parts of government, and non-government sectors.
UK-based policy specialist Jo Jewell and Australian health-rights Doctor/Lawyer Fiona Lander will be hot on the tail of these topics and more… Exploring policy, health and legal systems responses to our global health challenges.
So a snapshot of our team and an introduction to their specialist areas. A taste of what is to come, some food for thought and a bite-sized portion of Translational Global Health.
Stay tuned, the main course is en route…
Dr Alessandro Demaio is a medical doctor, originally from Melbourne, Australia, with a Masters in Public Health. In 2010, Sandro began a PhD in Global Health with the University of Copenhagen, focusing on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). His primary research project is based in Mongolia. As a Director for NCD Action, in 2013 Alessandro will be a fellow at the Copenhagen School of Global Health and Harvard Medical School.