Health Cannot Be Approached Other than at the Global Level

Health Cannot Be Approached Other than at the Global Level

10.2.2017

In an increasingly interconnected and interdependent planet, only a global approach will allow to respond to the increasing complexity and diversity of health challenges

At a time where we have almost completed the first two decades of the 21st century, we have seen the best but also the worst ever in terms of Global Health.

The best has been the unprecedented improvement in health levels and health support during the first decade of the century (the so-called golden decade), where the Millennium Development Goals drove substantial advances in key health indicators – the overall under-five mortality rate declined by more than half, the maternal mortality declined by 45% and over 65 million malaria deaths were averted in sub-Saharan Africa.

The worst is that, despite these achievements, stark health inequalities exist and are on the rise, while the world is experiencing a wave of populism, protectionism and isolationism in response to a public distrust of global integration.    

And yet, in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent planet, only a global approach will allow to respond to the increasing complexity and diversity of health challenges. The past Ebola and Zika epidemics have shown once again that pathogens initially restricted to remote areas can spread farther and faster. They have also shown that we need to be better prepared to tackle future large outbreaks by emerging or re-emerging pathogens. On the other hand, the medical advances of the last century (particularly vaccines and antibiotics) together with the demographic changes, new lifestyles, growing urbanization, and the environmental effects of human activity are changing the pattern of diseases, whereby infectious diseases and malnutrition that affect the most vulnerable populations (children and mothers) coexist with an explosive rise in chronic non communicable diseases. And all this is occurring in a scenario of large inequalities and fragile health systems.

A new integrating paradigm is emerging as a new multi-disciplinary field of study: Planetary Health, defined as the “health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends"

In this context, a new integrating paradigm is emerging as a new multi-disciplinary field of study: Planetary Health, defined as the “health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends”. As the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health report led by Professor Andrew Haines points out, “we have been mortgaging the health of future generations to realise economic and development gains in the present”. Our unsustainable exploitation of nature’s resources has permitted us to flourish but now we risk substantial health effects from the degradation we have inflicted on the environment, including climate change, air pollution, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss.

To face these emerging health challenges, what we most need is to build bridges for transformative knowledge, which means linking the generation of robust scientific evidence with its translation into policies and implementation where and for whom it is most needed, in order to ensure an effective impact.

We most need is to build bridges for transformative knowledge, which means linking the generation of robust scientific evidence with its translation into policies

In a context of deep economic recession and considerable reductions in R&D investment, and with the innovative vision and support from the “la Caixa” Banking Foundation together with the Catalan Government and other public and private prestigious institutions, we have managed to build from three pre-existing excellent centres of excellence, a world-class leading institution in global and public health research and translation.

Thus, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) places Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain on the world map of best transformative capacities based on scientific knowledge and translation to address the new challenges in global health, particularly geographical and social inequities, transitioning infectious and chronic diseases, urbanization, and the impact of climate and environment.

ISGlobal aims at breaking the vicious circle of poverty and disease, and support research and innovation that promote the virtuous circle of health and wealth in the entire world.

Through its contributions, ISGlobal aims at breaking the vicious circle of poverty and disease and support research and innovation that promote the virtuous circle of health and wealth in the entire world. Our main areas include malaria elimination, the improvement of maternal, child and reproductive health, the access to effective diagnostics and treatments for neglected diseases, the development of new tools to respond to antimicrobial resistance, the identification of environmental exposures that may hamper early child cognitive development or promote cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as exploring new ways to improve urban settings for better health.   

On February 14, we will introduce the new chapter in ISGlobal with an event where Sir Andrew Haines, professor and former director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSTMH), will participate.  For more information and to register, please click here.