Health and Healthcare

What's the state of health and healthcare? Here's what was discussed in Davos

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The World Economic Forum is working to improve healthcare access and health outcomes. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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Health and Healthcare

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Improving healthcare access and enhancing health outcomes underpin the health and healthcare work at the World Economic Forum.
  • The 2024 Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, featured several initiatives aimed at turbocharging progress in meeting these goals.
  • From closing the gender gap to embracing AI, here's what we learned about the global state of health and healthcare at Davos 2024.

Improving healthcare access and enhancing health outcomes – these twin goals underpin all our health and healthcare work at the World Economic Forum.

The 2024 Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, featured eight initiatives that will turbocharge our progress towards meeting these goals, and shape the future of healthcare around the world.

From closing the gender gap to tackling antibiotic resistance and embracing digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), here's what we learned about the global progress in the state of health and healthcare at Davos 2024.

1. The Global Alliance for Women’s Health

Closing the gender gap in healthcare could reduce the time women spend in poor health by almost two-thirds, improve the health and lives of over 3.9 billion people, and add $1 trillion to the global economy every year by 2040.

These are the findings of a seminal report, Closing Women's Health Gap: A $1 Trillion Opportunity to Improve Lives and Economies. Its release at Davos 2024 was accompanied by the launch of the Global Alliance for Women's Health, whose remit is to prioritize, protect, and promote women's health.

Although women live longer than men, on average, they spend more years in ill health and often in their most productive years. Yet, we lack data on women’s biology, and there’s not enough research into women’s health.

This is true for conditions that mainly affect women – for instance, less than 2% of medical research funding is spent on pregnancy, childbirth and female reproductive health – and also of conditions that affect both sexes but manifest differently in women, such as heart disease.

Forty-two organizations have expressed interest in joining the alliance, including government leaders and representatives from the private sector, entertainment industry and philanthropic space. Together, they will pledge new commitments to advance the alliance’s priorities across three pillars: financing, science and innovation, and agenda-setting.

Key partners have already announced $55 million in pledges to improve women’s health outcomes and shape a new future for women’s health worldwide.

2. The Climate and Health Initiative

By 2050, climate change could cause an additional 14.5 million deaths and $12.5 trillion in economic losses worldwide, according to a new report, Quantifying the Impact of Climate Change on Human Health Report, also launched at Davos.

Healthcare systems could face an additional $1.1 trillion burden from more frequent and deadly floods, droughts, heat waves and vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue.

What we often overlook is that these are not future challenges, but very much today’s reality. And while businesses are affected in a variety of ways, they have the opportunity to mitigate risk by taking action.

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For instance, excessive heat and pollution pose occupational health risks and reduce productivity. Businesses can build resilience by exploring high-potential solutions at the workforce and population level.

The Climate and Health Initiative is developing working groups with the leadership of its steering committee, bringing together organizations to manage what is inarguably an existential threat to our species.

While the healthcare sector has a direct role here, we urge other sectors, including agriculture, food and beverage, transportation, energy and technology, to step up to ensure a holistic and systems transformation.

3. The Digital Healthcare Transformation Initiative

Digital technologies, data and AI have opened up new possibilities for tackling the perennial challenges for healthcare around the world, as outlined in our latest insight report, Transforming Healthcare: Navigating Digital Health with a Value-Driven Approach.

Some 4.5 billion people are currently without adequate access to essential healthcare services. Healthcare is often expensive, and out-of-pocket spending on healthcare can cause families to go bankrupt. At the same time, costs are rising even as worker shortages are set to reach 10 million by 2030.

To highlight a few uses, data can help spot and fix gaps in healthcare provision and fault lines in healthcare systems, while machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) can augment disease detection and precision therapies.

The Forum’s Digital Healthcare Transformation Initiative, launched at Davos 2024, will bring together leaders to set a global standard for health data management, ensure its secure and ethical use, and propel innovation to improve global health security. They will also work towards health systems transformation to prioritize patient-centric outcomes.

4. The Global Future Council on the Future of Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a leading cause of death globally. This “silent epidemic” could claim 10 million lives and reduce global gross domestic product by 1.1% to 3.8% by 2050.

Inappropriate and excessive use of antibiotics, which causes AMR, is a challenge in every geography, though low- and middle-income countries are affected more. Doctors overprescribe and patients may not adhere to dosage guidance of antibiotics – often due to poor access or diagnostics –further giving rise to resistant pathogens.

Few new drugs are available to address new pathogens. Studies suggest that $1.2 billion in annual funding is needed to support a viable pipeline of antibiotic innovation, in addition to a pull incentive that creates a sustainable market.

The Global Future Council on the Future of Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance seeks to address this by identifying the right policy incentives and innovative financing mechanisms. It also studies how healthcare systems can ensure evidence-based use of antibiotics and proper surveillance of pathogen evolution.

5. New Frontiers of Nutrition initiative

Poor diets are estimated to cause 11 million deaths (20% of total) and the loss of 255 million years due to ill-health, disability or early death. While poor health outcomes associated with diets are estimated to cost $11 trillion, their environmental costs add up to another $7 trillion.

The New Frontiers of Nutrition initiative seeks to provide consumers with the right information and access to make the right choices. It convenes diverse stakeholders to devise systemic solutions to enable healthier patterns of consumption.

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The goal is to make nutritious food choices widely available, accessible and adopted at scale by 2050. This will enable people to lead happier, healthier and more productive lives. Stakeholders are encouraged to engage in the nutrition action agenda highlighted in the latest report, Transforming the Global Food System for Human Health and Resilience.

6. Progress on pandemic preparedness

As became apparent during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are significant gaps in the global health security infrastructure, with several regions of the world having nearly no vaccine access and the lacking ability to utilize technical advances to detect and respond to pathogens swiftly.

There is an urgent need to accelerate the development of sustainable biothreat and disease surveillance systems and increase the regional distribution of vaccine manufacturing capacity.

In 2022, World Economic Forum joined forces with the National Academy of Medicine and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to drive collaboration between the private and public sectors to help build regional manufacturing capacity.

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The Regionalized Vaccine Manufacturing Collaborative (RVMC) launched at the Annual Meeting 2022 has now developed a framework for diversified vaccine manufacturing, detailed in an insight report launched at Davos 2024, which can ensure progress towards the goal of resilient, flexible and agile regional manufacturing of vaccines and improve access to medical countermeasures.

To better prepare and respond to pandemics and biological threats, the Forum launched the Biothreat & Disease Surveillance initiative that convened at Davos 2024. This initiative will establish a dedicated community of industry partners and, through a stepwise process, co-design new business and operational models with 3-5 select governments and public health institutions.

7. The Global Health Equity Network’s Zero Health Gaps Dashboard and Health Equity Partnerships Platform

Health inequities cost the global economy $42 billion in untapped productivity, preventing people from fulfilling their potential and enjoying good health and well-being. So there’s a clear business case for prioritizing health and well-being at the workplace – it boosts productivity and bottom lines.

One of the Forum’s foremost initiatives to improve healthcare access is the Global Health Equity Network (GHEN). More than 100 CEOs have signed GHEN’s Zero Health Gaps Pledge to eliminate health disparities in their workforce, service or product offerings, communities and broader ecosystems.

Marking this milestone, at Davos 2024, GHEN launched the Zero Health Gaps Dashboard, highlighting signatories’ work. A Health Equity Partnerships Platform was also launched, where organizations can partner to promote health equity. GHEN calls on leaders from all sectors, including financial services and consumer goods, to sign the pledge and join the network.

8. Healthy Workforces initiative

More than 15% of the working age population has mental health disorders, while 71% of the deaths globally are attributed to non-communicable diseases. Depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion, while $2 trillion in losses are incurred worldwide due to obesity-related illnesses.

The Healthy Workforces initiative brings together more than 50 organizations dedicated to improving the mental and physical health of employees and strengthening societal resilience.

With over 1.3 billion people in formal employment, the initiative leverages the workplace setting as a key enabler to support holistic health (mental, physical, and social/emotional wellbeing) at the individual, organizational and community levels.

The initiative will analyse lighthouse interventions across the public and private sectors that enhance employee well-being. It will further measure the return on investment of these interventions to help build a business case for employee health and wellness programmes.

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