Destination Switzerland: First major multilateral health discussions of 2019 | Layla McCay

Layla McCay

Two major Switzerland-based international events relevant to health were held in January - The World Economic Forum and the World Health Organization Executive Board. Layla McCay, director of international relations at the NHS Confederation shares some highlights.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) theme this year was: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In case you’re wondering, the fourth industrial revolution is how the advanced technologies from the physical, digital and biological worlds are combining to create innovations at a speed and scale unparalleled in human history - and this is changing how everything works, including "opportunities to substantially enhance the availability and delivery of health services," as expressed by WEF.

And yet the WEF’s really quite interesting report on accelerating health system transformation did not seem especially focused on a fourth industrial revolution. Certainly, informatics and the digital opportunity are central to this report’s recommendations, but many of their other findings are rooted in supportive policies, including financing approaches, multi-stakeholder collaborations, outcome-based reorganisation of care, and shared decision making. This report is really about how best to leverage data, policies and people to create the right environment for health system transformation. Worth a read.

Britain provided substantial health leadership at WEF this year. The Wellcome Trust announced $200 million of research funding for mental health (and Prince William spoke about the negative effects of its stigma). A major angle of mental health discussions was mental health in the workplace. You can read more and watch one of the talks here. Imperial presented their progress on vaccine development to address ‘Disease X’, the new era of biological threats. Also, the UK government announced a five-year plan to tackle the global threat of antimicrobial resistance, with a view to containing and controlling the problem worldwide by 2040.

And of course, Brexit did come up. One of the World Economic Forum’s big questions this year was: How do we get countries working better together? They note: “Global GDP has doubled since 1990, but globalisation’s future is no longer about only physical trade. It is about knowledge, information, and technology. How can we encourage nations to cooperate more efficiently to enable more inclusive, sustainable societies?” The NHS Confederation contributed a UK response to this debate via video. I noted that beneath the politics of Brexit, the collaboration we are seeing at the health expert level offers inspiration and lessons for the potential of sector-led collaboration to help countries work together, particularly in politically complicated times.   

Other big health topics at WEF this year included financial investment in global health – see Bill Gates talk with World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, about trends and solutions. And you might also be interested to learn more about New Zealand’s plans to introduce a national ‘wellbeing budget’ alongside the usual economic one.

Speaking of Dr Tedros, this month was the 144th World Health Organization Executive Board meeting. A lot was discussed. We heard more from the director-general about his plans for WHO reform: “Measurable impact, relevance in all countries, normative and technical excellence, and innovation, with a focus on digital health.” Some other things that caught my eye from the meeting: 2020 was officially designated the Year of the Nurse and Midwife – the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. The UK co-sponsored a patient safety resolution to reduce avoidable harm across all health systems through concrete actions and international collaboration. Emergency and trauma care has been put on the agenda for the next World Health Assembly. And, of course, there was a call for the world to increase effort on achieving the health sustainable development goals. A busy month for international health meetings.

Layla McCay is director of international relations at the NHS Confederation. Follow her on Twitter @LaylaMcCay

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