Gipfeltreffen im Zeichen der Gesundheit Internationale Meinungsbildner beim World Health Summit in Berlin

Gipfeltreffen im Zeichen der Gesundheit Internationale Meinungsbildner beim World Health Summit in Berlin

Better health care for everyone in the world is one of the greatest challenges faced by the international community. Around 1,000 experts from over 80 countries came to the sixth World Health Summit at the Foreign Office in Berlin in mid October. They discusses epidemics, climate change, medical progresses, healthy living in big cities, and “Big Data“.

International cooperation should be expanded in the fight against global epidemics. This was one of the main statements made at this year’s World Health Summit in Berlin. The first day of the event was centred around the dramatic spread of the Ebola virus. By mid November, more than 14,000 people have been infected, the majority of them in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. More than 5,000 people have already died. In order to combat the disease, the European Union has already provided a billion Euro in aid. The German federal government has provided over 100 million Euro for aid measures, which are being put to use by the World Health Organisation and the Agency for Technical Relief.

In his opening speech for the four-day summit, the federal foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged his audience of 600 guests to consider possible strategies against the disease in some of the most severely affected areas in West Africa: “We cannot abandon the people there – and we will not abandon them.“ He demanded a greater commitment from the international community in the fight against Ebola, as well as a more determined international cooperation in all social areas. “It is important that not only states and governments, but also economic, scientific, and social and civil experts come forward and contribute to stopping the epidemic.“ He suggested the implementation of a civil EU mission as a concrete measure of action. This would also provide those member states lacking structures in the affected regions a platform with which they could send medical personnel. The GermanArmed Forces, for example, would provide assistance via an airlift and help building sick bays. In a moment of self-criticism, the foreign minister conceded that the size and dynamic of the epidemic had been underestimated, and that Germany had not properly prepared for it.

Apart from Steinmeier, the main speakers included the federal health minister Hermann Gröhe, the French secretary of state for development Annick Girardin, the Australian medical Nobel-prize winner Barry J. Marshall, and the chairman of the Charité hospital Prof. Dr. Karl Max Einhäupl. Gröhe emphasised Germany’s international responsibility and the importance of functioning structure in the Ebola-affected areas. According to him, Germany, unlike many other countries, is well prepared for a potential epidemic.

“The Ebola crisis shows that the international focus on developing robust health systems needs to be increased.” The minister of health emphasised that Germany was the only country worldwide that was taking on infected individuals from other countries. Gröhe also commended the efforts of the over 3,000 “Doctors without Borders“ workers on assignment in the affected areas of West Africa. For 2015, when the Millennium Goals expire and new ones will be established, he demands that special attention be payed to health policies. Annick Girardin also believes that the World Health Summit 2014 is particularly valuable in order to mutually prepare for the new world climate contracts that are to be set next year. The cooperation between Germany and France in the P4H-Initiative of the WHO is a good example of effective international partnerships in this area.

A further central topic at the World Health Summit was climate change and its direct and indirect effects on health. According to information provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average temperature worldwide has increased by 0.75 °C in the past years. As a result, the sea level has risen, glaciers have melted, and the occurrence of extreme weather conditions such as heat, drought, or flooding has increased. The WHO estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths through malnourishment, diarrhoea, malaria, or heat stroke.

Climate change also has worldwide indirect effects on agriculture and the fishing industry, access to clean drinking water, sufficient nourishment, and therefore affects the health of the people. At this year’s Health Summit, researchers from different regions presented their research findings. The Brazilian Professor Paulo Saldiva, who teaches at the Medical Institute at the University of Sao Paolo, warns that countries in Central and South America, in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Middle East, and in Europe have very high emission rates. This makes these regions more vulnerable to health hazards. Kathryn Bowen, from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, showed that Australia significantly improved their health care services through political and structural changes, such as the implementation of a Climate Change Department.

The third topic discussed at this summit was the topic of “Big Data,“ which concerns itself with the measuring of medical progress through digital content. “Tablets and similar gadgets are nowadays just as important as the stethoscope,“ Roger I. Glass, the director of the Fogarty International Centre in the USA, explains. According to him, particularly structurally vulnerable countries have to be introduced to specific training programs for research and teaching. This would necessarily include an infrastructural improvement with stabile Internet connections. A good example is Uganda, where there are few Ebola infections due to the country’s good infrastructures. In the heavily affected areas of West Africa, less investments had been made in the community institutions, which is how Glass explains the high infection rates in these countries.

When the Millennium Goals expire and are reset in the next year, three points will be of utmost importance to the provision of health care: the decrease of the child mortality by two thirds of its current rate, a decrease by three fourths of a mother’s mortality rate, and the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Critics have deemed these previous goals to be overly ambitious and unrealistic. Ebola shows how vulnerable developing and threshold countries are to such epidemics. Even highly developed industrial countries such as Germany or the USA have had to treat infected individuals, sometimes to no success. The international cooperation between scientists, politicians, NGOs, and volunteers has to be strengthened in order to share knowledge and prevent potential angers at their sources.

Markus Feller
This contribution has also been published in IFAIR’s column at the Diplomatic Magazine (12/2014) as part of our partnership.