As we move further into the twenty-first century, there is a rising realisation that the relationship between humans and the larger environment is critical. Within this context, and fuelled by concerns about climate change, there has also been an increasing recognition that public health and the health of the earth are inextricably linked.
Dr. Shyam Bishen is a senior healthcare executive with over 25 years of global experience in healthcare public-private partnership, strategy development, M&A, and business development. In this interview, he speaks about healthcare equity and the World Economic Forum’s mission to create an improved healthcare system for all.
Can you tell us about the trends shaping the future of healthcare?
The World Economic Forum’s mission is to improve the state of the world. One of the aspects we pride ourselves upon is bringing various stakeholders from different sectors, public and private, together in partnerships and coalitions to accomplish our goal. When it comes to healthcare, our aim is to improve the state of the public health system, its sustainability and its resilience so that we can enhance the overall health of the people and provide the best possible care. The priority is to keep the global population healthy by delivering the best possible health care.
Dr. Shyam Bishen, Head, Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, Member of Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
It is a huge goal, but it is a huge opportunity as well. We work with different sectors to accomplish this, presently according to various reports, the focus on the global trends is in a few areas. One is to ensure that we are better prepared for the next pandemic, and there is a strong global response on pandemic preparedness. We are working very closely with various stakeholders, governments, pharmaceutical companies, and other healthcare organisations, to make sure that we have a better prepared health system with health care workers, who are equipped with better training.
In addition, we are also working on equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics, and drugs. Vaccine access was a massive challenge. For COVID-19, we are trying to create regionalised vaccine manufacturing capacity, so manufacturing can take place in Middle East, Africa, and other parts of Southeast Asia and Latin America, and we are looking at low- and middle-income countries, as well. Presently vaccine manufacturing is concentrated in just a few developed regional spots, and as we move forward, we want to create better access to vaccines and break away from this concentration. The same approach is applicable on the diagnostics and the treatment side.
How is global warming impacting the healthcare industry?
A key area of focus for us is preparing for climate change. Currently, there are several initiatives to protect and prevent further harm to the health of the climate. Numerous countries and companies have committed to net zero or decarbonisation, many up until 2030, to 2050, and beyond. However, we still have a long way to go, with global warming and its risks still a part of our ecosystem. Water and air pollution are impacting people’s physical and mental health. We are experiencing rampant drastic weather changes around the world from drought, hurricanes, and torrential rain. There is a significant increase in infectious diseases, such as mosquito-borne diseases due to global warming.
Few are aware that mosquitos are the most life-threatening insects, and they kill over a million people every year. An increase in the mosquito population is expected, and with that there will be an increase in vector borne diseases like malaria and dengue. The question remains on how will we prepare for this, and how do we ensure that we are able to respond to such an increase in infectious diseases with our healthcare system?
This is another area of focus for the World Economic Forum, and we are working with philanthropic organisations such as the Wellcome Trust and others. On this note, we also want to have sufficient research-based evidence and data that we can take to policymakers. A misconception among many is that climate change impact will hit us in 10 or 15 years from now. However, we are witnessing clear indicators of its impact through an evident increase in various disease areas. Infectious disease is just one area; air pollution is causing respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, we need to focus on both - the health of the climate and the impact on human health.
What have been the learnings that healthcare leaders need to apply moving forward?
COVID-19 was a catalyst in underlining the huge gaps in health equity around the globe. Developed countries got access to vaccines very quickly, followed by the second, third dose and receiving vaccine boosters. Whereas many parts of the world did not even get the first dose of the vaccine. This brings me to the third area I would like to highlight, health equity.
We don’t want to witness this again in the future, and my previous comment on pandemic preparedness links to this. We need to emphasise on equitable access to health care services, and all health care products around the globe. Our goal is to reach zero health equity gap by 2050.
The World Economic Forum is bringing business, government, civil society, and public sector leaders together at the Annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland in January to address health equity and pledge to creating actionable plans. There are some serious social determinants to health equity, which is poverty, education, transport, jobs, and income, and all these components are interlinked. There are corporate citizens who have committed to developing the communities that they are operating in; however, action needs to be taken at the public and private partnership level.
This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today.