B&R promotes global health

By Lu Wen’ao Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/14 22:13:40

UK’s Nabarro sets sights on intl health improvement

Dr David Nabarro, a nominee for Director-General of the World Health Organization Photo: Courtesy of the British Embassy in China


With the world still troubled by major viruses including Ebola and Zika, global health conditions require urgent action and cooperation.

As China is pushing for the Belt and Road initiative, Dr David Nabarro, a nominee for Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has seen potential in international cooperation on health conditions through the initiative.

"I firmly believe that President Xi's Belt and Road initiative offers substantial opportunity for cooperation on health issues," Nabarro told the Global Times in an e-mail interview.

The opening up of new corridors enables greater cooperation possibilities along these routes, as we have seen China and the WHO jointly implement a health project based on the Belt and Road initiative, said Nabarro. But it also brings concern for him.

"It is clear that with the opening up of new corridors and the increased movement of goods and people, there is also potential for more rapid spread of infectious diseases," he said.

However, the planned activities, including regional meetings such as the Annual Meeting of Ministers of Health from Central and Eastern European Countries with China and Sino-ASEAN Forum on Health Cooperation, are considered to offer opportunities for increased health security.

"They will strengthen the resilience of countries along the Belt and Road corridors to handle health crises if/when they occur," said Nabarro, a Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change.

The WHO is set to elect a new chief to replace retiring Magaret Chan during the assembly later this month, where Nabarro is competing against Tedros  Adhanom Ghbreyesus of Ethiopia and Sanya Nishtar of Pakistan for the top job in the WHO.

He has called for countries to remain vigilant and act swiftly to respond to any disease outbreaks.

"The WHO must set standards in infectious disease response to ensure that everyone has access to the latest advice, prevention, methods and treatment everywhere," the 67-year-old said.

"It is vital that all countries detect and respond early to infectious diseases and the threat of new infections," he noted.

"I would look forward to working with China and member countries involved in the Belt and Road initiative to find ways to bring health considerations to their economic growth strategies and decision-making, and support expanded health service delivery and disease prevention and control capabilities."

Mental health

This year, WHO used World Health Day to promote awareness of mental illness, a disease "millions" of people globally are silently suffering from.

"The most common of these, depression, affects more than 300 million people worldwide and can vary greatly in terms of severity," said Nabarro.

It is time to pay real attention to mental illness, urged the British man. "Not only is it the right thing to do, it is smart use of finance."

Investment in mental health makes economic sense: every $1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work, according to Nabarro.

The emerging challenge of non-communicable or "lifestyle" diseases also raised the eyebrow of Nabarro.

"As Director-General of WHO, I will lead an organization that catalyses reductions in widespread suffering caused by diseases such as cancer, obesity and diabetes," the nominee backed by the UK government said.

"I will help countries deal with these lifestyle illnesses through early intervention and prevention, something that can be achieved at low cost."

Quick response

Climate change, violent conflict, persistent poverty and mass migration have brought up many health challenges, with many accusing the WHO of not doing enough to prevent diseases.

"The benefits of globalization and new technologies remain unequally shared," said Nabarro. "As a result, people face an ever-growing avalanche of threats to their health."

He noted the coordination between WHO and its member states is vital for in-time reaction.

"The most important element of the response system must be the capacity of communities and countries themselves to detect threats, to react promptly and to prevent their escalation," he said.

"National authorities have the primary responsibility to promote the health of their people, but health objectives cannot be achieved without the full engagement of people and civil society, as well as decisive leadership and strong commitment from governments."

The role of the WHO is not only to ensure that all people attain the highest possible level of health, but also to ensure that the attainment of health contributes to global peace and prosperity, according to Nabarro.

"We must ensure that the system for responding to outbreaks is predictable and dependable."

China's role

China's steps in improving health outcomes for the population since the launch of the 2009 health reforms have won international credit, including the continuing promotion of equal access to basic public health services.

"This should be praised and lessons shared with other developing countries," Nabarro said.

One Chinese medical team, the Chinese National Emergency Medical Team (EMT) from Shanghai, has been singled out by Nabarro. It was one of the first EMTs globally to pass WHO's rigorous EMT classification process.

"The team is now not only ready to respond to national outbreaks and disasters, but also primed to support the development of other EMTs along the Belt and Road," he said.

But challenges still remain.

The population is aging and there is a surge in non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

The number of people over 65 years old in China is now 140 million and is expected to increase to 230 million by 2030, according to Nabarro.

"WHO data shows that the prevalence of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer in the Chinese population has risen more than nine-fold within a single generation, far faster than in the rest of the world."

Action needs to be taken at every level - from the top leadership to the individual - to tackle these challenges, the British believe.

"As WHO Director-General I will want to work with China's leaders, to build on recent success and help WHO to spread the benefits across the region," he said.


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