The World Health Summit 2022 – health for all

Last week, I attended the World Health Summit in Berlin together with several KI colleagues. This year’s summit had the tagline Health for All is the Goal, which perfectly aligns with our vision here at KI; to strive towards a better health for all.

The small and quotidian word “all” is the one-word distillation of what amounts to one of the major challenges of our time: to safeguard health across geographical and generational boundaries, and across socio-economic strata. The pandemic unveiled and exacerbated extant inequities in health and told us in no uncertain terms that these inequities impact us all. We are all interconnected. The unequal access to vaccines and medicines is a case in point.  

Our international academic networks served us well during the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with a global crisis we were eager to share, and our mindset shifted from competition to cooperation. We saw the value in being part of a global academic community. The World Health Summit is a venue for bolstering international collaboration and for forging new cooperative links that could prove invaluable when a new health crisis hits.

The World Health Summit is an annual strategic forum that gathers a multitude of actors and stakeholders, from academia to business, government, and civil society. It was held this year for the eighth time. The focus this year was very much on pandemic preparedness, and understandably so. But the health challenges we face today go way beyond the threat of a new pandemic. The Summit sessions left no doubt: we are entering an era with a number of parallel crises that impact health: poverty, conflicts, environmental challenges, pollution, loss of biodiversity, antimicrobial resistance. And climate change, not least. We must ask: are we attentive enough to the need for mitigation and adaptation, and are our plans and actions commensurate to the scale of the challenges ahead? These questions were very much in evidence under one of the Summit sessions, led by KI professor Stefan Swartling Peterson. What is for sure is that our health increasingly will be impacted by the environment and the world around us. As a medical university we have to adjust and respond.

M8 Alliance, Sustainable Health for People and Planet, One Voice for a European Global Health, and delivering the Promise of Gene Therapy

Together with my colleagues I started the summit with a meeting the evening before its official opening, with the M8 Alliance. The M8 Alliance, of which KI is a member, is the academic backbone of the World Health Summit. Members of the M8 Alliance work together on a range of issues and we organise Expert Meetings on current topics to set the agenda for health improvement. It is a forceful collaborative network that enables us to use our academic voice and our shared knowledge and competence in discussing and issuing recommendations on global health matters.

The Summit then kicked off with the above-mentioned session Sustainable Health for People and Planet, which focused on the interconnectedness between human and planetary health. Across the globe, climate change and ecosystem degradation are increasing in scale and intensity, thus posing a threat to human health and well-being. Action is needed to change this trajectory.

The workshop One Voice for a European Global Health and One Health Strategy was another well-attended event that I was part of during the summit. It links perfectly with the conference Convergence on Global Health – Our Common Future, A discussion on the new EU global health strategy that KI is hosting on the 9th of February next year. The overarching theme of both events is the changing role of the EU as a global health actor. How shall we join forces for better health and preparedness within Europe, with due recognition of and attention to the health challenges in the world beyond? This was also a question that was brought up under the side event Building a European Health Union: Taking Responsibility for Global Health. 

Another event – of direct relevance to KI´s focus on precision medicine – addressed advances in gene therapy. This was a roundtable discussion under the heading Realising the Promise of Gene Therapy: Exploring Health System Challenges. What are the barriers, and how should one ensure equitable access and follow-up? Questions relating to ethics and societal outreach were also brought up during the discussion.

World Health Summit and basic research

The World Health Summit provided a welcome opportunity to discuss how the lessons learned during the current pandemic could help us be better prepared for the next. One of the lessons learned is that research is crucial for mustering a rapid and effective response to a health crisis. During the pandemic we saw how science with unprecedented efficiency and speed filled knowledge gaps, replaced uncertainty and ignorance with evidence and understanding, and generated vaccines in close cooperation with industry. But we should all be reminded that the rapid rollout of effective vaccines and treatments was made possible thanks to decades of publicly funded basic research.  In other words, long-term basic research – nurtured by international cooperation and a willingness to share – is the mere foundation for pandemic preparedness. This is the take-home message from the World Health Summit, and this is the take-home message from the health crisis that still endures.


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