Looking Ahead: Global Health Threats in 2019

The past year felt turbulent across many facets of life- global health included. Between threats to health from climate change, infectious disease outbreaks, the opioid crisis, threats to healthcare in war zones, and the ever-present health risks of noncommunicable diseases, global health resources are stretched thin. The coming year promises to be just as challenging.

Many global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and IntraHealth, release reports on health risks to look out for at the start of each year. Between these lists, there is significant overlap, suggesting that the problems in global health are not a matter of lack of data or direction, but poor prioritization and lack of resources. Pollution and climate change rank high on almost all such lists; the WHO reports that 90% of people breathe polluted air on a daily basis. As a result, the WHO considers air pollution the greatest environmental threat to health for 2019- a significant step considering the threats of water pollution and other environmental contaminants. As with most global health issues, the world’s poorest people are hit the hardest. Nearly nine in ten of global deaths due to inhaled pollutants are in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), due to entirely preventable causes like poor regulation of transport emissions and using gas-powered cookstoves in homes.

Another problem heavily featured in the forecasting reports for 2019 include health risks due to conflict. More than 1 in 5 people across the globe (22%) live in a conflict-affected environment. These are the populations least likely to meet health and development targets, like the Sustainable Development Goals. Specific conflicts are high on the radar of global health officials, especially Yemen and Syria. Both countries have experienced heavy destruction of their existing health infrastructure, brain drain of medical personnel, and tangential struggles that bode poorly for health, such as food insecurity and poor sanitation. Dogged efforts by both local and international humanitarian workers have been able to stave off many public health disasters in such environments, but as wars proliferate and donor attention drifts, only the most pressing issues can be addressed. For example, in Yemen, an unprecedented multi-wave cholera outbreakled to more than 1 million cases of cholera. Of these cases, 30% were children. An effort by many international and local NGOs to distribute vaccines to these cases likely decreased the death toll, but the existing malnutrition of the population coupled with factors like destroyed water supplies exacerbated the outbreak and accelerated the need for resources and personnel.

Risks from infectious disease are typically present throughout global health forecasts, and this coming year was no different. In fact, for the first time, the WHO considers vaccine hesitancy, which they define as the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines, to be a public health risk that threatens to undo decades of work eradicating diseases that, until quite recently, affected people around the world. Vaccine hesitancy is thought to be one of the factors that has led to a 30% increase in global measles cases. Outbreaks of Ebola have shown how dangerous and fast-moving an infectious disease can be, even with the health workers tasked with treating ill patients. Resurgence of polio in war-torn Syria was only dissipated through a massive vaccination effort. The growing threats from influenza, Dengue, Zika, MERS, SARS, and many other diseases have raised the alarm as to how well global public health processes are able to deal with a potentially catastrophic pandemic. Unfortunately, another global health risk identified by the WHO is antimicrobial resistance for the types of antibiotics that, for decades, have saved the lives of millions. This could cause currently treatable infections like pneumonia, gonorrhea, and salmonellosis to be as dangerous as in times before antibiotics were available. One such infection, tuberculosis, affects 10 million people per year and kills almost 20% of those afflicted. In 2017, almost 500,000 cases of tuberculosis were classified as “multi-drug resistant.”

It’s not all bad news. Overall, global health trends are moving in a generally positive direction. Global life expectancy has increased by 5 years since 2000. Every day, more people will be able to access clean water, electricity, and the internet. Global child mortality has fallen by almost 15% since 1960, while global extreme poverty has fallen to less than 10%, an almost 30% decrease from just three decades ago. Almost 90% of children receive the DTP vaccine before their first birthday. However, progress is uneven, and for many is too slow. Many experts believe that some of the long-simmering global health concerns of the past few decades may be coming to a head as 2019 begins.

For anyone concerned with global health, these risk forecasts can seem dire. Even under the best of conditions, most initiatives set to tackle these risks can at best hope to minimize, and not completely eradicate, the threats from these challenges. The MDGs and SDGs are an important first step in setting a global agenda that puts the social welfare of populations at the front and center, and such efforts must continue. Yet, policymakers cannot ignore the many countries around the world that continuously fail to meet minimum standards of health and well-being. We cannot decouple the political and economic circumstances that lead to failures in global health progress. Short-term aid packages are a necessary salve, but not a sustainable solution. Many global health advocates contend that putting health and well-being at the center of state strategic planning would cascade into positive indicators in all aspects of life, such as food security, education outcomes, economic development, and inter-state diplomacy and coordination. To ensure that we are poised to meet the known and still unknown risks that may come in the coming years, global health must be a primary consideration.

Advertisements

Tick, tick, tick: Reflections from this year’s annual meeting

Tick, tick, tick.

The ticking of Dr. Victor Sidel’s metronome resonated throughout the large ballroom where a reception in his honor was held during the first days of the 2018 APHA Annual Meeting in San Diego. Dr. Sidel, a formative figure in the field of public health and a past president of APHA, died earlier this year after spending his career as a physician vigorously defending the rights of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The beats of the metronome, which he used to punctuate his presentations and speeches since the 1980s, were meant to represent the social disparities inherent in global public health. One tick meant that somewhere in the world, a child was dying due to preventable illness. One tick also represented tens of thousands of dollars spent in weapons sales. Among Dr. Sidel’s published works included seminal books such as War and Public Health and Social Injustice and Public Health, both edited by his longtime collaborator Dr. Barry Levy, who spoke at the APHA reception to honor his colleague. At a prior eulogy for Dr. Sidel, Dr. Levy summed up the body of work that had driven them for decades: “Vic taught us that health, peace and social justice were not isolated concepts, but tightly woven together. I can still hear him saying there cannot be health without peace and social justice, and there cannot be peace and social justice without health.” In many ways, the 2018 APHA conference showed just how deeply these intersections between health, peace, and social justice have been woven into the fabric of the organization, starting with honoring Dr. Sidel, continuing with the breadth and diversity of panels and posters, and concluding with a number of resolutions that were adopted.

Many panels examining various aspects of health and social justice were available throughout the conference. The International Health Section sponsored panels on topics like global health and human rights, equity in global women’s health and maternal, neonatal, and child health, health and war in countries like Yemen, Mexico, Syria, and Gaza, and refugee health. The Peace Caucus sponsored several complementary panels on topics of war and public health, militarization of the border, and violence on indigenous women, along with a presentation from the joint Lancet- American University of Beirut Commission on Syria. The Human Rights Caucus also presented panels on sexual and reproductive rights, as well as issues of health governance and advocacy. A search through the 2018 conference program found topics like environmental justice, worker’s rights, racial disparities, the rights of the incarcerated, and many other issues of social and health justice presented throughout hundreds of panels, roundtables, and posters.

More than many other health-related organizations and associations, APHA has long served as an advocacy platform for the pressing social issues of the time, recognizing the depth of issues that influence public health. While many APHA resolutions address topics traditionally associated with clinical outcomes, like smoking, diet, and reproductive health, combing through the decades of policy statements on the APHA Database shows positions on timely and controversial issues like opposing military action in Afghanistan and Central Asia in 2002, ensuring access to health services for undocumented immigrants in 1994, and raising concerns about the health impacts of fracking in 2012. This year was no different, with a total of 12 new policy statements adopted, many directly focusing on contemporary issues of social justice such as opposing family-child separations at the US border and addressing police violence as a public health issue.

The latter topic was first brought to APHA in 2016, where a collective of authors, motivated by grassroots organizing against state violence, recognized the significance of a national public health entity taking a strong position on the issue. While the resolution passed the APHA Governing Council vote overwhelmingly in San Diego (87% to 13%), just last year it was voted down by a 30-point margin (35% to 65%). A year of collaborative work on drafting and promoting the statement resulted in this year’s triumphant victory, which was crafted to specifically point to the public health implications of the “underlying conditions of the institutions, systems, and society we live in that determine our health outcomes,” according to the End Police Violence Collective. For them, APHA recognition of this resolution “is one more tool that organizers against law enforcement violence can use to pressure their elected officials.” This success, they state, is also portending a needed shift in public health from focusing primarily on behavioral interventions to considering structural ones as well. APHA’s role as a representative of the field of public health makes its willingness to frame public health inequities as social justice issues significant. Despite the two-year trajectory of this resolution within APHA, the Collective maintains that “this work has been ongoing for generations, in communities organizing to draw attention to, intervene on, and rebuild after experiences of law enforcement violence. This statement is a product of those generations of work. It is an important step. But there is more work to be done.”

A reminder of work to be done may be seen in another resolution that came before the governing council but was not met with the same cheers and jubilation. Members from the International Health Section, including Dr. Kevin Sykes, the Chair of the Advocacy and Policy Committee for the IH Section, and well-known scholars of war and public health Leonard Rubenstein and Dr. Amy Hagopian, put forward “A Call to end to attacks on health workers and health facilities in war and armed conflict settings.” Incidentally, the latter two authors have both been recipients of the APHA Victor Sidel and Barry Levy Award for Peace, in 2011 and 2018, respectively. The statement was introduced as a latebreaker due to the accelerated pace of attacks on health workers in 2017, as detailed by a report published by Safeguarding Health in Conflict, a coalition of which APHA is a member, and received several endorsements from multiple APHA components, including from the Peace Caucus, the Occupational Health and Safety Section, and the Forum on Human Rights. However, opposition to some of the specific details of the statement, especially those regarding Israel, led to a contentious process that culminated in little floor debate on the merits of the resolution and, ultimately, the governing council voted no (25% to 75%). Dr. Hagopian echoed the sentiments of the End Police Violence Collective when discussing the importance of APHA taking a stance on issues of social justice, despite what she sees as the sometimes conservative stance of the governing council when it comes to controversial issues. “People working to make the world a better place need all the support they can get- both this sort of written, academic association support as well as political support out in the world. When they can cite the APHA, as the largest and longest stand public health organization in the country, as being on board, that carries weight.” As a result, Dr. Hagopian plans to revise the statement and resubmit it for next year’s APHA conference in Philadelphia. Upon receiving the Award for Peace at the IH Section Awards Ceremony this year, she said “It’s important to be on the right side of history, early and often. So we’ll be back another day.”

Tick, tick, tick.  

New American Public Health Association policy statements address gun suicides, tuberculosis prevention, global food security and more

Summaries of 2018 APHA policy statements adopted by the Governing Council in San Diego

San Diego, Nov. 13, 2018 – The American Public Health Association Governing Council adopted 12 new policy statements at its 2018 Annual Meeting and Expo in San Diego today, covering topics from gun suicides to tuberculosis prevention, global food security and more.

The following are brief descriptions of the 12 policy statements adopted by the Governing Council at the Annual Meeting. One of the new policy statements is a latebreaker, meaning it was not open to the same review as the other 2018 policy statements and will serve as an interim policy statement until reviewed by the Governing Council at its regular 2019 meeting. For more information on any of these policy statements, email policy@apha.org.

These brief descriptions are not comprehensive and do not include every point, statement or conclusion presented in the policy statements. For the full policy statements, which will be posted in early 2019, visit www.apha.org.

20181 Reducing global child mortality rates — Noting that one child younger than 5 worldwide dies of diarrhea every minute and that oral rehydration salts and zinc treatment can prevent many such deaths, calls on federal officials to appoint a U.S. global “Children’s Champion” charged with coordinating U.S. activities to reduce diarrhea-related mortality and serving as a global voice for children’s health. Encourages U.S. global health programs to fund investments to improve the supply of oral rehydration salts and zinc, fund innovations in home-based diarrhea treatment, and train local health providers in treatment guidelines, among other measures. Urges public health professionals and organizations to support efforts to reduce diarrhea-related deaths in young children and work toward increasing public-private partnerships that scale up oral rehydration salts and zinc treatment by at least 30 percent within three years.

20182 Addressing potential health impacts of fracking — Because unconventional oil and gas extraction — often known as fracking — poses a range of known and unknown risks to public health and the environment, including risks to drinking water, air quality and worker health, recommends that unconventional oil and gas development cease and that a strategic phase-out of existing development be encouraged where possible. Calls for policies that explicitly compare the economic and public health trade-offs of fracking, that require environmental impact assessments and that minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Encourages federal, state and local agencies to adopt a precautionary approach to unconventional oil and gas activities, including discouraging the use of chemicals with unknown health risks. Also calls for the elimination of unconventional oil and gas exemptions from federal worker safety rules and encourages federal health officials to establish an industry-wide worker health registry.

20183 Ensuring a healthy energy future — As communities move toward to non-fossil fuel and alternative energy sources, calls on stakeholders across sectors to monitor, evaluate and support effective strategies to transition to healthier, more efficient energy supplies. Regarding coal, calls on the Mine Safety and Health Administration to vigorously enforce worker health and safety standards. Also calls on officials to suspend new coal-fired power plants and cancel plans for future plants. Urges Congress to set fuel economy and emissions standards for vehicles, and urges car manufacturers to begin a complete phase-out of fossil fuel-dependent vehicles. Encourages federal officials to develop effective energy efficiency standards for homes and commercial buildings, and calls on people, families, businesses and governments to expand the adoption of alternative energies, such as wind and solar.

20184 Reducing gun-related suicides — With U.S. suicide rates increasing by nearly one-third over the last 20 years and considering that guns are involved in more than half of U.S. suicide deaths, calls on advocates and professional associations to adopt and promote guidelines for mental health providers on screening for guns in the home and to equip them with information on local offsite gun storage options. Urges state public health agencies to collaborate with public safety and mental health agencies to advocate for increasing the availability of temporary gun storage outside the home. Calls on public health agencies to partner with gun owners and suicide prevention professionals to advocate for increased funding for gun-related suicide research, including research on developing effective marketing campaigns on gun-related suicide prevention.

20185 Understanding, treating violence as a public health issue — With national data showing an increase in violent deaths, such as gun-related homicides and suicides, as well as research finding long-term health effects from childhood exposures to violence, calls on health departments to collect, analyze and report data on violence, including details on how violence impacts historically marginalized communities. Encourages community health programs to start programs that detect and interrupt the transmission of violence using professionally trained workers. Also encourages health providers to screen patients for domestic violence, past exposure to violence and behavioral problems that can lead to violence, all while using a trauma-informed and culturally competent approach. Calls on federal, state and local governments to invest in public health approaches to violence prevention, and recommends that federal agencies help establish an active surveillance system for monitoring violence in communities.

20186 Regulating electronic nicotine delivery products — With the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems increasing among all U.S. demographic groups and little known about their long-term safety or efficacy in helping people quit cigarettes, calls on the Consumer Product Safety Commission to add nicotine to its list of substances covered by regulations and to require special packaging and warning labels for such products. Also calls on Congress to amend the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act to include electronic nicotine delivery systems. Encourages federal agencies and health organizations to fund research on the short- and long-term health effects of such products on both users and those subject to secondhand exposures. Calls on state and local officials to enact laws prohibiting the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems in enclosed public spaces and places of employment.

20187 Preventing tuberculosis among health workers — With tuberculosis causing nearly 2 million deaths worldwide in 2016 and with health care workers at higher risk of infection than the general population, urges national and state governments to develop and implement policies that strengthen workplace health and safety programs that focus on prevention and education. Calls for workers’ compensation programs that provide adequate tuberculosis treatment and counseling, paid leave and death benefits. Recommends workplace programs that have rigorous respiratory protection components, improve exposure control efforts inside hospitals, promote new diagnostic strategies, and provide counseling to help workers cope with the side effects of tuberculosis treatment. Calls on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to increase funding for tuberculosis research, including more support for research efforts focused on developing a vaccine for the disease.

20188 Advancing the health of refugees — With global instability contributing to historic levels of displaced people and knowing that refugees face significant health challenges, calls on the U.S. government to fully invest in and cooperate with the international community in efforts to prevent conflict and to reaffirm the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and its goal of coordinating a multi-sector response to the refugee crisis. Encourages U.S. officials to work with state and local partners to coordinate housing, educational and health needs among refugees. Urges health care systems and providers to tailor their services to meet the needs of refugees, including the use of trauma-informed, culturally competent care. Calls on the U.S. government to work cooperatively to ensure safe passage for refugees, and urges the international community to adopt legal protections for displaced people.

20189 Achieving health equity in the U.S. — With research documenting clear disparities in morbidity and mortality, particularly among racial and ethnic minority groups, calls on federal officials and members of Congress to fully fund the Affordable Care Act, the National Prevention Strategy and Implementation Plan, and the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities. Calls on federal public health agencies, as well as public health organizations, to develop and implement evidence-based toolkits that communities can use to reach vulnerable populations. Calls on state and local officials to support social policies to improve education, income, housing, jobs and transportation, and urges state and local government to work with urban planners and health professionals to integrate health considerations into planning, policy and decision-making. Encourages people and communities to advocate for the enforcement of civil rights and disability laws.

201810 Supporting global food security — With hunger still a daily challenge for more than 815 million people worldwide, calls on U.S. leaders to ensure adequate funding for U.S. Agency for International Development programs that improve food security and encourages leaders to fund efforts focused on preventing and mitigating the effects of climate change on world food production. Encourages U.S. leaders to sign or ratify relevant United Nations conventions that support food security, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Resolution to Support Breastfeeding, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Urges the U.S. government, foundations and other donors to mobilize funding and resources to increase the scale, scope and impact of food security efforts. Calls on U.S. officials to support the creation of a system to collect and interpret global dietary data.

201811 Addressing police violence as a public health issue — With law enforcement violence — including death, injury, trauma and stress — often disproportionately affecting marginalized populations, calls on federal agencies, localities and states to add death and injury by legal intervention to their list of reportable conditions. Calls on Congress to fund the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on the health consequences of law enforcement violence, with a particular focus on disproportionate burdens among people of color, people with disabilities or mental illness, people living in poverty, people experiencing homelessness, immigrant populations, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations. Urges governments and law enforcement agencies to review policies that can lead to disproportionate violence against specific populations. Calls on governments to allocate funding from law enforcement agencies to community-based programs that address violence and harm without criminalizing communities, including restorative justice programs.

LB-18-12 Opposing family-child separations at the U.S. border — With the separation of immigrant children and families at the U.S.-Mexico border a public health crisis with the potential for long-lasting negative health impacts, calls on federal officials to permanently halt such separations unless there is an imminent, ongoing threat to the child’s safety in a respective parent’s care. Urges the federal government to collect relevant data to ensure that children and parents can be located if separated. Calls on federal officials and agencies, as well as contractual partners, to offer culturally competent resources and support to reunite separated families. Urges public and private funding agencies to support additional research to understand the mental, physical, spiritual and cultural consequences of separating families, including the separation of lactating mothers and their babies. Recommends that such research examines the roles and history of racism, xenophobia and inequality in the creation of family separation policies.

The Man-Made Health Crisis in Yemen Cannot Wait for the End of the War: What Can Humanitarian Actors Do?

In 2017, only a few years into a brutal civil war, Yemen reported a cholera outbreak of one million cases, more than half of which were children, making it the worst outbreak in history. At the time, Yemen was already in the midst of what was considered a dire humanitarian crisis, with more than 20 million citizens affected. A year later, the situation has become even more critical, with the United Nations warning of “the worst famine in 100 years” within the next few months if the war continues. Many more Yemenis have died from lack of access to basic needs, such as clean water, food, medical care, and sanitation, than fighting.

Yemen was already considered one of the poorest countries in the world before the war, with low rankings on all indicators of human development. However, the war has completely devastated the nation and the health of its citizens. Multiple outbreaks of infectious disease such as cholera and malaria, high rates of food insecurity and malnutrition, tens of thousands of trauma-related injuries, and widespread mental distress have exhausted the healthcare system. Almost 80% of Yemeni children reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, an exceedingly high rate even when compared to other conflict-affected nations. Healthcare workers, many of whom have been unpaid for months or years, have been kidnapped, harassed, and killed, while hospitals have been directly attacked and bombed. Medical facilities are left with barely functional equipment, empty supply shelves, and sometimes no medical staff at all. One article detailed how the grandmothers of an infant born four months premature brought him to a hospital where they found no physicians, who had all walked out in protest the previous day after one of them was beaten up by one of the hospital guards. The grandmothers attempted to place the infant into an incubator themselves, but both machines were broken.

In April 2018, as long-term wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Sudan rage on, as a probable Rohingya genocide in Myanmar goes into its second year, and as natural disasters strike with increasing frequency and strength around the world, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The International Rescue Committee reports that 16 million people (almost three quarters of the country’s population) cannot access basic medical care, with more than half of the country’s already limited health facilities destroyed. What is left of the health system is Yemen is almost entirely sustained by contributions of medicines, supplies, and money by international donors. An estimated 9.5 million people were provided some form of medical intervention by the WHO and their partners in 2017 alone. However, the politics of the conflict have rendered even this emergency care inconsistent and unreliable. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has occasionally had to cease providing services in some parts of the country due to sustained attacks on their facilities and staff by both Houthi fighters and Saudi warplanes. An intermittent Saudi blockade on Yemen’s ports has prevented humanitarian agencies from bringing in food, medicines, and fuel, and even when supplies can enter the country, distribution networks are insecure due to airstrikes and combatants. Like many of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, the devastating circumstances are almost entirely man-made. It is not lack of money or resources that has brought Yemen to this point- the entirety of the budget that the Yemen Ministry of Health proposed for 2018 amounts to just three days of what Saudi Arabia alone spends on the war campaign.

Yemen would not be the first country to see the health and well-being of its citizens used as a bargaining chip in an intractable conflict. Alex de Waal, a professor at Tufts University and the Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation, called these types of man-made famines and humanitarian emergencies “economic war,” which is much more difficult to classify under international humanitarian law than a violent bombing campaign or overt starvation tactics. “The coalition air strikes are not killing civilians in large numbers but they might be destroying the market and that kills many, many more people,” he told The New Yorker. Couple destroyed markets with ruined medical facilities and it is clear that the quality of life of human civilians will be devastated for the long term. This is by no means a new wartime strategy. Perpetrators try to bring their enemy -combatants and civilians who are in any way affiliated with them- to the brink of humanitarian desperation to force concessions.

What is needed is immediate and meaningful action on the part of the actors involved in the war as well as the international community that is both providing the weapons and aid that sustain the conflict. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, outlined three requests to ease the humanitarian burden in the country. First, he called for guaranteed safe access throughout all of Yemen so that aid agencies can provide goods and services. Second, he demanded an end to all attacks on health workers and facilities. Lastly, he insisted that civilian health workers who remain in Yemen must be paid for their vital services. Similarly, a report by the International Peace Institute recommends that the international community, especially the UN Security Council, enforce compliance to international humanitarian laws and norms. Humanitarian actors must also work to coordinate their responses by sharing data, involving local stakeholders, and collectively pushing against blockade efforts. While meeting immediate needs is the clear priority, prevention and long-term health capacity building must also be pursued to both avert widespread catastrophe and prepare for the Yemen that will remain after the war ends. None of these actions must wait for a political end to the war, which is the only way to truly protect civilian life and ensure basic access to the human rights of food, water, sanitation, and health. However, these actions can push back against efforts by all sides of the conflict to use the health and well-being of Yemen’s citizens as pawns in the achievement of their aims.

 

Three Observations from UN High Level Health Meetings

During the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, two historical High-Level meetings in the realm of health were held addressing ailments that afflict individuals from every corner of this fragile planet. The first UN High-Level meeting on Tuberculosis (TB), focusing on preventing and treating this elusive disease, was held on Wednesday, September 26th which finally put TB in a global spotlight. Additionally, the third UN High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), under the theme “Scaling up multi‑stakeholder and multisectoral responses for the prevention and control of non‑communicable diseases in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” took place on Thursday, September 27th. World leaders and their ministers, non-government organizations (NGOs), and other stakeholders partook in these crucial meetings to curtail the suffering these various diseases cause. For each of these meetings, governments approved drafts of political declarations that commit countries to follow through with health policy, funding, and a multisector approach to these disorders. The following summarizes key points and commitments from each of the high-level meetings:

UN High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis

  • A commitment to mobilize $13 billion for universal access to quality prevention, diagnosis and treatment
  • $2 billion for research and development of new drugs, diagnostics, vaccines, and other tools.
  • Commit to provide diagnosis and treatment with the aim of successfully treating 40 million people with tuberculosis from 2018 to 2022 (including 3.5 million children, and 1.5 million people with drug-resistant tuberculosis including 115,000 children with drug-resistant tuberculosis)
  • Pledge of 30 million people (including 4 million children under five years of age, 20 million other household contacts of people affected by tuberculosis, and 6 million people living with HIV and AIDS) to receive preventive TB treatment by 2022
  • Promise to overcome the global public health crisis of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis through actions for prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, including compliance with stewardship programs to address the development of drug resistance
  • Oblige to consider how digital technologies could be integrated into existing health systems infrastructures and regulation for effective tuberculosis prevention, treatment and care
  • Commit to provide special attention to the poor, those who are vulnerable, including infants, young children and adolescents, as well as the elderly and communities especially at risk of and affected by tuberculosis.

UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs

  • Commitments to reduce NCD mortality by one third by 2030, and to scale-up funding and multi-stakeholder responses to treat and prevent NCDs
  • Health systems should be strengthened — and reoriented — towards the achievement of universal health coverage and improvement of health outcomes
  • Greater access to affordable, safe, effective and quality medicines and diagnostics
  • A commitment to ambitious multisectoral national responses, integrating action on prevention and control with promotion of mental health and well‑being
  • Increasing energies to reduce tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity through cost‑effective, evidence‑based interventions to halt obesity
  • To develop a national investment plan in order to raise awareness about the national public health burden caused by non‑communicable diseases and health inequities

While these are not all-inclusive of the commitments between nation states at these two meetings, they highlight the prominent concerns leaders in both the political and health dominion share. However, special attention should be brought to the dialogue held before and after the duration of the meetings. These discussions reveal the true apprehensions that world leaders fear affects their citizen’s health and well-being. The following are three observations from these two UN high-level meetings that may provide some significance in the future battle with TB and NCDs.

1. Is health trending towards being a right rather than a commodity among world leaders?

Before the UN high-level meeting on TB came to fruition, there was a highly controversial commitment in the declaration that concerned high-income countries like the United States. The commitment was centered around access to affordable medications, in particular, generic medications. The concerned countries had expressed reservations about language supporting UN member states’ rights to interpret and implement intellectual property rights in a way that defends public health and encourages access to medicines. Global health advocates believed this point as being essential to equitable access to medications across the world – treating health as a right rather than a product. In the end, health as a right was included into the declaration, through the leadership of South Africa and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), despite upsetting these powerful nation states. In addition, at the high-level meeting on NCDs, language was included that stated a similar commitment – to affirm the rights of UN member states to use intellectual property flexibilities to safeguard public health. Although the fight against these two devastating classes of diseases is certainly at the forefront of leaders’ minds, the seemingly endless interchange of health as a right and health as a commodity seems to be finally leaning towards the betterment for humanity – health as a right.

2. Technology and Policy – Finally Uniting to fight TB & NCDs

Throughout the UN General Assembly last week, several reports, policies and studies were released or highlighted that may prove to shape the future treatment of TB & NCDs. The following list are just a few of the major contributions that various sources released:

Health care professionals throughout the world realize that diseases need to be undertaken in a biosocial manner – utilizing both technology and policy. The outcomes that resulted from last week’s reports reaffirm that political leaders realize that the true way to overcome these burdens is to address them through this manner.

3. Multi-Sectoral Approaches – How should they be conducted?

One of the biggest initiatives in global health is the necessity to bring together all stakeholders in disease management in order to properly address the situation. With a vast array of input and ideas, different perspectives, and an atmosphere of collaboration, global health is trending rapidly in this manner – with a significant portion of the world partaking in multi-sectoral approaches already. However, the manner in which these are conducted can vary within countries and between NGOs and governments. Although these remarks may not apply to every country, the following statements made by world leaders may provide some insight into how a country could carry out these approaches:

  • A representative from the Netherlands state that including all stakeholders into the approach may cause conflict of interests – “The days are gone when the tobacco industry has a seat at the table” while also stating “multi-sectoral approaches are good, but governments should be in the lead” in reference to NCDs.
  • An NCD Alliance representative mentioned “it is for governments to determine their own priorities” and “civil society is ready to support, but governments must lead the way.” while simultaneously reaffirming her support for multi-sectoral approaches.
  • Finally, Gerda Verburg, coordinator of Scaling-Up Nutrition Movement explained that “Bigger companies are part of the problem, but we won’t succeed unless we make them part of the solution,” while also adding that she realizes that this is often difficult for civil society, and that “too often, they stand with their backs to the table where we need a critical dialogue with the private sector.” In addition, she supports the priority to “strengthen national systems.”

In a global society where the healthcare landscape is in constant motion, the ability to gather world leaders to commit to significant leaps of change is promising to all those who inhabit this planet. However, these commitments need to be followed up with action, funding, and the political will to properly solve the world’s number one killer and the deadliest infectious disease. The global health community should inspire and encourage their governments while correspondingly holding them accountable to adorn these commitments and continue to battle these overwhelming diseases.