Health and Healthcare

Resilient, equitable and sustainable: How to deliver healthcare that maximizes the benefits of scientific innovation

Investing in scientific innovation and resilient, net-zero health systems can secure a healthy, prosperous future for all.

Investing in scientific innovation and resilient, net-zero health systems can secure a healthy, prosperous future for all. Image: Shutterstock

Michel Demaré
Chair of the Board, AstraZeneca
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Health and Healthcare

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • After years of focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic, health has dropped on the global agenda – at our peril.
  • When health is viewed as a strategic asset, there are enormous benefits for people, communities, economies and societies.
  • Investing in scientific innovation and resilient, net-zero health systems can secure a healthy, prosperous future for all.

We're entering a new era of science and innovation that has the potential to revolutionize how healthcare is designed, developed and delivered. Thanks to digital innovation, data and artificial intelligence (AI), what once may have sounded like science fiction is fast becoming a reality.

But as science races forward, health systems around the world are falling behind. Under-resourced and over-burdened, too many health systems are struggling to address the changing burdens of disease driven by a rise in chronic conditions and worsened by the devastating impact of the climate crisis on health.

On top of these challenges, inflation and economic volatility are placing further pressure on health systems and ushering in a new wave of cost-containment measures.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve healthcare systems?

Health systems today are increasingly unable to leverage the incredible scientific advances in life-changing medicines to benefit patients. A key reason is that smart investments are not being made in healthcare innovation. This impacts population health, which in turn holds society back from realizing the enormous benefits healthy people have on their communities and economies at large. A McKinsey report states that one-third of economic growth in advanced economies in the past century can be attributed to improvements in health. In developing countries, for every $1 invested in health, Brookings found a possible economic return of between $2 to $4.

Unfortunately, these statistics are being overlooked. Rather than a cost to be managed, we must value health for what it really is – a strategic investment in our current and future well-being and prosperity.

As leaders gather for the 2024 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, enabling health systems globally to keep pace with the rate of life sciences innovation must be recognized as a priority and foundational to the world’s shared response to economic, political and technological shifts.

Here are three ways we can rethink our approach to health:

1. Reorient health systems to act earlier to prevent, detect and treat disease

With the global burden of disease growing unabated, including more than 3 billion people now living with chronic diseases, we need to fundamentally shift from a “sick care” to a health care approach, gearing health systems to act earlier to prevent, detect and treat disease.

OECD countries spend an average of just 3% of their healthcare budgets on prevention. This is woefully inadequate when we know that acting early on diseases is backed by stronger health outcomes and economic evidence. For example, early intervention can improve lung cancer survival outcomes and lower costs, with a US study finding that a person diagnosed with stage I lung cancer has a seven to nine times higher chance of survival compared to someone diagnosed with stage IV, while the direct medical cost is three times lower.

And it’s not simply a matter of increasing health budgets. We need to deploy funds strategically to maximize impact and ensure equity of access and health outcomes. Evidence-based approaches, like the Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR), co-founded by the WEF, AstraZeneca and the London School of
Economics can help indicate where national health systems should focus and target investment. In its 2023 Summary Report, the PHSSR found that health systems too often rely on expensive secondary care. Early interventions can be prioritised by focusing more on primary and community care, benefiting people and health systems.

2. Invest in life sciences innovation

Remarkable strides have been made in scientific and medical innovation over the past century, doubling life expectancy. Antibiotics, vaccines, insulin, and birth control pills are just a few breakthroughs that have revolutionized the modern world. Now, think of the groundbreaking advancements we can achieve this century, from potentially curing cancer to harnessing the power of cell and gene therapies.

Investing in innovation can fuel a virtuous cycle of innovation, health and prosperity. Leveraging synergies between the public and private sectors is critical to this: from the long-term capital required to research and discover life-changing medicines, to maintaining innovation ecosystems that support intellectual property and protect data, to ensuring equitable patient access and scaling health solutions.

Keeping the delicate innovation-health-prosperity cycle turning requires sustainable investment in health solutions.

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3. Unlock the full potential of digital healthcare tools, data and technology at scale

In many countries, digital infrastructure in health systems is fragmented. It lags far behind where it could, and needs, to be for patients and systems alike to benefit from this new era of digital tools, data and technology.

In addition to getting current systems to work better (i.e. getting the basics right), our ambition must be to harness the full potential of digital tools, data and technology to reduce the unsustainable cost of disease and tackle health inequities.

This includes adopting more data-driven technologies such as AI to help diagnose diseases earlier and gain better insights into treatments and preventions that could benefit all of society. This also means making more effective use of health data, which could radically reduce the cost and time needed to generate new evidence on the effectiveness of interventions. Advances in telehealth and remote patient monitoring can reduce emissions and close health equity gaps, reaching remote or disadvantaged populations that might not otherwise have access to early disease detection, timely diagnosis, clinical trials or high-quality therapies.

By leveraging partnerships and taking a coordinated approach, we can achieve all of this at scale. In November 2023, AstraZeneca launched Evinova, a health-tech business, to offer industry-leading and globally scaled digital health solutions to the wider life sciences and healthcare sector. Evinova will prioritize bringing to market established solutions already being used globally by AstraZeneca to optimize clinical trial design and delivery. This will reduce the time it takes to develop new medicines, bring care closer to home for patients, and ultimately reduce burdens on health systems.

As this year’s Annual Meeting begins, let's remember that strategic investments in health now will pay dividends for decades to come in more productive, sustainable and equitable societies. Amid a world in transformation, health must remain our common foundation.

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