Davos Agenda

Davos Agenda: What you need to know about the future of global health

A health worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at Cullimore Chemist, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Edgware, London, Britain January 14, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Childs - RC2O7L9O4URQ

A healthy future depends upon tackling mental health, health disparities and climate change, too. Image: REUTERS/Paul Childs

Samantha Sault
Writer, Washington DC and Geneva
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: The Davos Agenda
  • Getting control of COVID-19 and vaccinating people should be top priorities in recovery plans.
  • A sustainable recovery is also dependent upon improving access to healthcare, preventing the next pandemic and tackling climate change.
  • The Davos Agenda will highlight solutions to ensure healthy futures for all.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetimes – and getting control of the virus and ensuring citizens around the world are vaccinated are top public health priorities.

However, COVID-19 is far from the only health challenge we’re facing – and recovery goes beyond the immediate response to the virus itself. Ensuring good health and well-being for all are essential for economies and societies to be resilient in the face of future health, economic and environmental challenges.

With the right recovery plan, we can stop the spread of COVID-19, eliminate health disparities and possibly even prevent the next pandemic – which will ensure that our futures are not only healthy, but also equitable and resilient.

From 25-29 January 2021, The Davos Agenda will bring global leaders together to discuss the next steps in the response to COVID-19 – and why health and economic recovery go hand-in-hand.

Have you read?
  • How to follow The Davos Agenda

Where do we go from here?

Building back better must include ensuring healthy futures for all – here's how.

1. Make progress towards Universal Health Coverage

“An estimated 400 million people around the world lack access to basic health services. Each year, close to 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty because they have to cover their own health costs,” wrote the Forum’s Sofiat Akinola and former Global Shaper David Alexander Walcott.

“These numbers have increased with COVID-19 and will continue to increase as people lose jobs, health insurance and health expenditures rise due to COVID-19 related spending on testing, treatment and vaccines,” the authors note.

This is why Universal Health Coverage (UHC) matters. UHC “is about ensuring that all individuals and communities have access to the health care they need,” according to the UHC2030 Private-Sector Constituency, hosted by the Forum with the goal of driving private-sector partnerships towards achieving this goal.

High-Performance Health-Financing for Universal Health Coverage: Driving Sustainable, Inclusive Growth in the 21st Century
Financing for UHC is needed. Image: World Bank

Perhaps one silver lining of the pandemic is that it fast-tracked tools that can help us reach UHC – such as telemedicine and increased use of data and analytics. Now, the challenge is to ensure health systems don’t return to “normal” when the pandemic is over.

2. Prioritize mental health and wellness

Pandemic causes spike in anxiety and depression
COVID-19 has exacerbated our mental health crisis. Image: Statista

This, too, is an economic issue, because “costs associated with not addressing employees’ mental health issues cumulate to a material impact of hundreds of billions of dollars – from lower motivation and work productivity, to increased calls to mental health services, to anxiety about unprecedented family needs,” wrote Liz Hilton Segel, North America Managing Partner of McKinsey & Company.

Clearly, if we want a complete health and economic recovery, we need more investment in mental healthcare.

In the meantime, experts provide six strategies for individuals to “reboot your brain” in 2021 –including getting exercise and plenty of sleep, eating well and staying socially connected, among others. And McKinsey’s Segel provides practical tips for improving mental health in the workplace.

3. Recognize that environmental health and human health are linked

Preventing the next pandemic and ensuring healthy futures requires addressing the environment, too.

Scientists believe COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease that originated in bats and jumped to humans somewhere along the way. In fact, “around 75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are believed to be zoonotic,” according to the UN – including malaria, which remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

Zoonotic diseases are spread between humans and animals
75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic in origin Image: CDC

Now, biodiversity loss, deforestation and wildlife trafficking are causing more disease outbreaks.

“Deforestation has increased steadily over the past two decades and is linked to 31% of outbreaks such as Ebola, and the Zika and Nipah viruses. Deforestation drives wild animals out of their natural habitats and closer to human populations,” explained John Scott, Head of Sustainability Risk for Zurich Insurance Group.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

“More broadly, climate change has altered and accelerated the transmission patterns of infectious diseases such as Zika, malaria and dengue fever, and has caused human displacement. Movements of large groups to new locations, often under poor conditions, increases displaced populations’ vulnerability to biological threats such as measles, malaria, diarrheal diseases and acute respiratory infections,” Scott continued.

And climate change itself is a major health risk.

“The loss of life and economic misery caused by this pandemic are on par with what will happen regularly if we do not eliminate the world’s carbon emissions,” wrote Bill Gates.

Estimated Excess Mortality Attributed to Air Pollution in Europe
Air pollution kills. Image: European Society of Cardiology

“[B]y 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as COVID-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly,” Gates added.

What to watch during Davos Agenda

From 25-29 January 2021, join us for special addresses, leadership panels and impact sessions that will address many of the challenges discussed above, including:

  • Building Crisis-Resistant Healthcare Systems in a Post-COVID World, Monday 25 January 12:00-13:00
  • Responding to the COVID Crisis, Monday 25 January 14:15-15:00
  • A Great New Deal for Health and Healthcare, Friday 29 January 18:00-18:45

Speakers include:

  • Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer
  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)
  • Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
  • Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI
  • Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of Greece
  • Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca
  • Jens Spahn, Germany’s Federal Minister of Health

You can watch the livestreamed sessions here.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Davos AgendaGlobal HealthHealth and HealthcareMental HealthClimate ChangeNature and Biodiversity
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