This year’s edition of the World Health Summit was held in Berlin from 15th to 17th October and brought together around 2,000 individuals from over a 100 countries. The extraordinary mix of individuals striving for a healthier world was composed of top-level researchers, members of the civil society, high-profile politicians, policymakers, industry and NGOs representatives, and last but not the least, by students and young professionals. I was one of the fortunate persons able to attend the summit representing the Global Health Next Generation Network.
The three-day event was built around three main aims: discuss global challenges, advocate for accountable global institutions and provide a platform for global networking. The discussion of the global health challenges this year was mainly focussed on big data, migration health, sustainable development goals (SDGs) and non-communicable diseases. The summit program was divided into five simultaneous sessions. Every session, that I had the opportunity to attend, provided new knowledge and a fascinating intersection of different perspectives.
For instance, the first-day session ‘Healthy and Resilient Cities’ challenged us to understand the opportunities and threats that urbanization poses to health. How on one hand, cities can survive, adapt and grow as valuable tools to achieve the sustainable development goals, while on the other hand, they seem to drive us crazy. At this point, I was introduced to the term ‘neuro-urbanism’ by professor Mazdla Adli and the relation between social density and social isolation leading to social stress and mental health disorders. Charlotte Marchandise, deputy mayor for health in Rennes shared her personal experiences of the impact of resilient cities for health, and Jose Zuniga talked about the Fast-Track Cities initiative1 launched by Worlds AIDS Day 2014 in cities with high HIV prevalence with the aim of engaging city officials and civil society in order to reach HIV diagnosis and treatment targets and to eliminate discrimination and stigma.
On the second day, I was particularly impressed by the panel discussion, ‘The Beauty of Impact’, where 16 Social Tech Pioneers showcased their solutions to address public health challenges. This included, for example, projects such as Discovering Hands, where blind and visually impaired women are being trained to detect cancer2, creating a life-saving capability out of a disability, a Smart Memory Assistant app to provide better quality of life for patients with early dementia, a Snake Rapid, a portable breast exam, a fast kit to diagnose malaria, among others inspiring icons of public health progress.
Interestingly, the breaks between the summit sessions also provided knowledge and development opportunities, whether it was on the line for a warm coffee, on a quick walk to stretch legs and look at the sun, or a relaxing moment at the end of the day, the summit brought together passionate people that enjoy sharing their thoughts about global health and are actively looking for ways to collaborate and make meaningful contributions.
On the third and last day, the closing remarks of the World Health Summit recognized health as an unmissable component of the political arena. Moreover, health is a political choice and a call to get individuals, populations, institutions, and governments on board with a strong commitment to global health through support for strong and reliable institutions. It is a commitment to healthy and resilient cities, strengthening of the health systems in Africa3 in particular, investment in basic research, innovation and technology development, and commitment to responsible approaches to big data. It will be very interesting to follow up on the actions taken as a response to the debates and recommendations by the World Health Summit and evaluate the extent of impact conferences of this magnitude can have in the global health arena.
Viveka Guzman is a medical doctor from Mexico. She is currently pursuing a master’s programme in Global Health at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. She is also a Projects and Partnerships Supervisor at GHNGN.
- Fast-track cities initiative: http://www.iapac.org/cities/
- Discovering hands: Breast cancer – the burden and early diagnosis http://www.discovering-hands.de/en/
- M8 Alliance Declaration World Health Summit 2017, Health is a political choice: https://d1wjxwc5zmlmv4.cloudfront.net/fileadmin/user_upload/downloads/2017/WHS_Berlin/Data/M8_Alliance_Declaration_2017_Berlin.pdf