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Taking stock of IHP at the start of a new decade in global health

Taking stock of IHP at the start of a new decade in global health

By Kristof Decoster
on January 3, 2021

As we kick off the new year (and in a way, a new decade), it is perhaps good to reflect a bit on the past 10+ years of IHP (International Health Policies), especially for new subscribers to the newsletter who are less acquainted with the origins of IHP. In a second part of this article, we then peer into the near future (and coming years), from an IHP point of view (whatever that means 😊).

Over a decade ago, in 2009, IHP was started by my colleagues David Hercot & Wim van Damme at the Institute of Tropical Medicine, and funded by DGD, the Belgian Development Cooperation (who have continued their support over the decade). In other words, IHP started more or less five years before the end of the MDG era.

In line with ITM’s “Switching the poles” aim, synergies with the Emerging Voices for Global Health venture and network evolved, including regular contributions by EVs, among others. This collaboration with EV4GH has been sustained for a decade now. We are more than grateful for the many EV articles and blogs over the years, including on the IHP website.

But IHP focuses, first and foremost, on knowledge management (via the weekly newsletter ). The newsletter initially started in 2009 around ‘key reads from the Lancet (on Friday morning)’.  We have come a long way since then, not unlike global health itself. What didn’t change however is that we still aim to be a ‘one-stop shop’ of international health (policy) news, global health, and in recent years also planetary health. (So, admittedly, the term ‘IHP’ is perhaps not fully up to date anymore, but for now, there’s no plan to change it.)

Content wise, IHP tends to focus on global health governance ( & governance for health) and HPSR, while also paying a lot of attention to global health security, UHC, and the many other global health areas (NCDs, SRHR, Infectious Diseases, AMR, …), more or less in line with the evolving global health policy agenda.  Of course, there will always be some (un)intentional bias in the selection of articles compiled, however, including the priority items get in the newsletter.  That’s just unavoidable.

Speaking of the rise of planetary health in the newsletter, for example: As climate change has, over the past decade, turned into a real climate crisis/emergency (with even ‘climate breakdown’ as a real threat in the decades ahead), planetary health has become steadily more important over the years in the newsletter.  Maybe the poles haven’t really “switched” completely in global health over the past decade, but they seem certainly on track for melting. Selected items related to this also include possible ways and brainstorming on paradigm shifts to still try avert runaway climate change ( enter doughnut economics, post-growth & de-growth thinking, post-capitalism, …. ). (As a side note, from that point of view, it’ll be more than interesting to see what economic system WHO will start pushing, now that M Mazzucato will be heading the Council on the Economics of Health for All. )

In recent years, it’s been also great to see that the Decolonialize Global Health movement has made some real progress, certainly in terms of ‘awareness’ and conceptualization, with some EVs also playing an important role in this.

Many more niche journals have seen the light since 2010 (among others the Lancet Global Health, Lancet Planetary Health, ….), as well as newsletters. Clearly, a key mention should go to BMJ Global Health, which has rapidly become a key platform for the HPSR community as well as the Decolonialize Global Health movement, among others.

Through curating content from all these journals, while also keeping an eye on the work from our colleagues from KFF, Global Health Now, FT Health, Geneva Health Files, HPW, Think Global Health, … it is clear that IHP has gone way beyond ‘checking out the Lancet on Friday morning’ since 2009 (while sadly also growing exponentially in size in the process). Even more so after we discovered Twitter (in 2012, that was, rather late to the party. We’re addicts now).   We are aware it takes more time to go through (scan) the newsletter than in the early days, but trust us, that’s nowhere near the effort to put this weekly digest together.  We’ve also come up with the distinction between ‘Highlights of the week’ and the extra sections – although arguably, that’s a work in progress… 😊.  

“Switching the poles” happened, in addition to the EV pieces, through IHP correspondents, EV residents, Southern-based members of the editorial team, …   and of course the content of IHP has also gradually changed over the years.  In a nutshell: “Less of Tim Evans, more of Seye Abimbola & Madhukar Pai, as well as Women in Global Health”  🙂    Still, much more could be done in terms of Switching the Poles, we are aware.

When the SDG era kicked off early 2016, it felt as a major improvement over the MDG era but also as somewhat of a disappointment, as the agenda didn’t go far enough, nowhere near far enough actually. Still, the Covid-19 pandemic shows now how valid that agenda was ( in terms of global inequity, planetary health, ….), with a pandemic mirroring and exacerbating all current inequities, proving the relevance of social determinants, NCDs, …  and of course with ‘planetary ill-health’ at its origin.    Let’s also not forget the geopolitical changes since the MDG era (including the increased multilateralism/authoritarian nationalism divide), which have influenced global health in recent years, as the current vaccine nationalism & diplomacy, and the WHO related bickering testify.

A Covid tipping point?

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, it also soon cannibalized the IHP newsletter content, at least last year. Given the links with all these other global health areas, however, as well as the potential of it turning into a tipping point for humanity, for better or for worse, we felt that was warranted.

Indeed, also in the North now, we feel fragile and vulnerable. It’s perhaps the first time the whole of mankind has a sense of vulnerability, even if the SDG agenda already warned so 5 years ago. So that, in itself, is progress in terms of global awareness.

Whether mankind will do better now than after the global financial crisis (when elites basically focused on propping up a perverse and unsustainable system), remains to be seen, however. If not, we’re in for more populism & authoritarianism (or worse). 

From a glass half full side, though, unlike after 2008/2009, paradigms do seem to be (slowly) shifting, with many people having witnessed how the global response, at least in rich countries, has uprooted some of the  TINA “wisdoms”. Most of us (including elites) also realize we need new social contracts, as was the case after the World Wars. Even more so now that Big Tech has also been ‘accelerated’ by Covid-19  – as if it was still necessary, huh.  

As much of “Global health power” still seems too much in an MDG (& Davos friendly) mood, IHP will continue to make that case for paradigm shifts, while providing the weekly IHP digest as a ‘public good’ of sorts in the coming years – health and funding allowing (not necessarily in that order 😊).

A few final remarks perhaps, then.

As you know, we don’t shy away from a bit of silly humour now and then, as we reckon that the world’s situation is grave and serious enough.  Occasionally (being a middle-aged white European male from Generation X), that can go wrong, and so it’s good to have in the IHP editorial team also some colleagues who think (distinctly) otherwise on a number of issues, while also helping to overcome other biases. Thanks much!

As a final (and totally unrelated) note to kick off the New Year perhaps:  if you have a corporate salary package (not to mention billionaires, who are in a category of their own), I think you should have the decency not to talk too much of “the need for global solidarity’, whether on vaccines or anything else. It feels, let’s put this diplomatically, a bit odd. Consider it the global health equivalent of the difference between Al Gore & Greta Thunberg.  Just saying.

Anyway, let’s see what the new decade brings. I for one, hope it’ll be more of an SDG ‘decade of delivery’ than a ‘pandemic era’ decade ☹!   

And do subscribe to the newsletter, if you haven’t done so yet.

Acknowledgment: many thanks to Clara Affun-Adegbulu and Radhika Arora for comments on a previous version.  

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