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Friday, April 7 is World Health Day, a global milestone to celebrate public health progress and call attention to urgent priorities to advance #HealthForAll, the 2023 theme. This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the World Health Organization (#WHO75), celebrating that in 1948 “countries of the world came together and founded the WHO to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable — so everyone, everywhere can attain the highest level of health and well-being.”
Reflecting on the history of the WHO, there are many important global health breakthroughs to alleviate deadly diseases, prevent disease through vaccinations and preventative care, strengthen health standards, improve childhood and maternal health and tackle the rise in noncommunicable diseases. But the COVID-19 pandemic shocked health systems and contributed to a global development backslide across many key goals across every area of health.
As we look to the future, the global health community will be working to regain lost ground, while addressing emerging threats such as climate-related health challenges and preparing for the next pandemic.
To help brands and communicators understand the global health priorities of today and tomorrow, we asked our global health experts across the agency to contribute regional perspectives.
The state of public health progress in Africa is nuanced with notable strides and significant recent setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic, infectious disease outbreaks and the impacts of climate change. While the region has made progress in managing the disease burden of HIV/AIDS and ensuring increased access to critical vaccines, equitable access remains a critical public health obstacle across the continent. There are longstanding issues, such as high rates of maternal and child mortality, malnutrition, increase in the spread of infectious diseases and limited access to healthcare in rural areas, which still require the sustained action of healthcare stakeholders.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the urgency for Africa to focus on building more resilient health systems that can not only swiftly respond to public health crises, but also ensure everyone can access essential health services at the community level. Solving these intersecting public health challenges requires a multi-sectoral and integrated approach to address social determinants of health — such as food insecurity and inadequate sanitation — that limit progress on global health goals. The 2023 Africa public health agenda will continue to center efforts to improve universal access to essential medicines, strengthening diagnostic infrastructures, investing in healthcare workforce capacity building and directing more public and private resources towards these efforts. It is as urgent as ever for policymakers, donors, pharmaceutical and healthcare companies to collaborate across sectors to mobilize action, advocacy and investments, for better health outcomes in Africa.
Allan Kamau, Managing Director, Nairobi
Stephanie Mithika, Senior Associate, Healthcare & Social Impact, Nairobi
APAC continues to be a rapid-growing and dynamic market for healthcare services in 2023 as new medical products and solutions are launched in multiple APAC countries. Faced with the challenges of ensuring healthcare — be it basic medications or innovative therapies — remains affordable to the public in a post-pandemic setting, improving access to treatments and health equity are all a focus of most national healthcare policies and plans in APAC. Therefore, pharmaceutical/medical device organizations should be keenly aware of these top-level national health strategies and align their scientific and commercial objectives to them accordingly. In the healthcare space, it is more important than ever for industry players to proactively lead and promote multi-stakeholder engagements by bringing healthcare professionals, patients, advocacy groups and policymakers together to have a discourse on the unmet needs and potential opportunities in health, instead of reacting to movements on the ground.
Dr Thing Soon JONG, PhD, Scientific Director, Hong Kong & Singapore
According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), equity in health is a fundamental component of social justice, a state that indicates the absence of avoidable, unfair or remediable differences between people due to their social, economic, demographic or geographic circumstances. However, issues such as reducing maternal and child mortality, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases are still public health challenges. At the same time, eradicating poverty and hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability are also related priorities. Areas of focus include: increased access to health services, including access to essential medicines, safe water and sanitation, as well as alleviating hunger and malnutrition.
Because health is closely related to the socioeconomic conditions of individuals, the identification of social gaps in health conditions and health care and the measures to overcome them should be considered as a strategic and essential component of comprehensive public action aimed at breaking the circle of poverty conditions and achieving greater human development.
Ensuring access to medicines, greater investment in research and innovation, maintaining ethical standards, technology and the digitalization of healthcare are key elements for accelerating the sector in Latin America. Increasing and boosting investment in healthcare is vital to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals; however, the region is significantly below the world average in this area.
Erika Haller, Healthcare Director Mexico
Carolina Lobo, Healthcare VP, Brazil
The limited coordination between EU Member States in the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the free movement of persons and goods, resulting in medical supply chain disruptions and shortages of critical equipment. To build future-proof health systems, the European Commission declared its commitment to building a European Health Union, where EU countries prepare and respond together to health crises, while increasing the role of the EU in tackling key global challenges and health inequalities as well as ensuring the EU’s strategic autonomy. In November 2022, the European Commission adopted its renewed EU global health strategy, setting 2030 targets and priorities to be achieved through strengthened collaboration between the European Commission and Member States to: (1) promote health and well-being across the life course, (2) achieve universal health coverage, and (3) prevent and respond to health threats.
Functional to this objective, a dedicated coordination system with EU Member States will ensure a powerful EU voice and leadership in global health, improved coordination among Member States in G7, G20, WHO, OECD and other global partners as well as greater coordination of financial resources. The Strategy calls for a strong engagement in the Pandemic Fund as a founding donor and key actor in the board, a strong involvement in the negotiations of a future pandemic agreement and the revision of the International Health Regulations. Drawing on the experience of the ACT-A to advance equitable universal health coverage, a permanent vaccine and countermeasure platform will be established and partnerships with other regional players, including in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Asia-Pacific region will focus on building manufacturing capacity for vaccines and other medical products and technologies to increase quality, safety, equitable access and health sovereignty.
The healthcare industry has not been proactively involved in the development of the Strategy but could certainly play a role in providing support and building manufacturing capacity in those countries and communities that are most in need — and that have been disproportionally affected by the disruptions caused by the pandemic. This might provide opportunities for engagement and multi-stakeholder partnerships in view of contributing to the strengthening of global health and the EU’s autonomy.
Daniela Negri, Director, Health Policy, Brussels
Sofia Brandao, Account Director, Health Policy, Brussels
The U.S. is experiencing continued growth in scientific breakthroughs, innovative therapies and an evolution in digital health technologies. At the same time, the U.S. is grappling with persistent inflation, a mental health crisis, the impacts of endemic COVID-19 and although improved since 2020, a healthcare worker shortage still significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels. The pandemic also exacerbated pre-existing access barriers to affordable health coverage and highlighted health inequities experienced by people of color.
These challenges serve as a catalyst to reimagining a public health system that is human-centered and inclusive. Investing in scientific innovation, utilizing public-private partnerships to tackle the country’s most pressing health issues and lowering health costs are top national priorities. Now, more than ever, healthcare leaders and their organizations must make a commitment to improving accessibility and join forces with patient advocacy groups, policymakers, nonprofits and foundations, national trade associations and government agencies to elevate critical healthcare conversations and mobilize audiences when it matters most.
Alexis Barnes, Vice President, Global Health, Washington DC