IHP news #521 (May 10, 2019)

UHC & GHS in a planetary emergency era

By on May 10, 2019



Dear Colleagues,

A tweet from Johan Rockström (Stockholm Resilience centre) set the tone for this week, and ideally, the better part of this century,  “Place the IPBES report next to the IPCC 1.5 C report and you have a full picture of a Planetary Emergency. Science cannot be more clear. The World needs to Transform. Now.”  We hope with him that IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services ) soon becomes a household name like IPCC. By the way, it was no less than heart-warming to see how the people behind the report almost desperately wanted to convey a message of hope, in spite of the dire tone of the report. “Transformative change” will be needed, however: “…Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. “By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

We humans are famous for getting our priorities right (ahum). I understand there’s a division of labour in the UN system, but against this backdrop of a new planetary emergency era, I wonder whether UHC & GHS, as they are currently conceived and operationalized (i.e. more or less within the constraints of the current global economic system), will remain dominant mantras for global health in the years to come, even if both are no doubt hugely important (PS: and let’s just forget about the term ‘planetary health’, increasingly a ‘contradictio in terminis’).  After all, the IPBES assessment estimates that “…current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80 % of the assessed targets of [a number of SDGs, including SDG 3 on health].” Guess we’ll already find out at the 72nd WHA  in Geneva. And, yes, in a way, the Global Action Plan for healthy lives and wellbeing for all tries to adopt more syndemic/systemic thinking, starting from a similar assessment that many SDG (health) related goals and targets are off track, but it’s not nearly going far enough. I just noticed Richard Horton is already fully on board, however, unlike most, see Offline: Time to radically rethink non-communicable diseases.

Earlier this week, when the IPBES report came out, George Monbiot lashed out at the media, frustrated about the laser-like focus in many British newspapers on the brand new (and arguably, cute) royal baby, “I’m often told “newspapers give us the stories we want to read”. It would be more accurate to say “the billionaires who own newspapers give us the stories they want us to read. They constantly influence our perceptions of what is relevant“.” Greta Thunberg and many others share(d) his frustration. Unfortunately, it’s a bit easy to blame the media. The truth lies, like in many cases, somewhere in between. And even if newspapers put the IPBES report on the front page, as they should have done (and did in a few cases), a few days later most people will already have ‘moved on’, with other concerns or news that gets their attention, especially now that the internet is further destroying our (already fairly weak)  collective attention span.  Trending topics are rising and disappearing faster than ever before. I only see one consolation for us human beings: at least the dinosaurs didn’t get to watch a heart-warming dino version of Liverpool-Barcelona when they were about to get extinguished. Neither did they have the chance to get wasted when cheering for their own ‘Van Dijk’, or shed big dino tears for a horrible last-minute defeat 😊.

This issue will also zoom in on the Ebola DRC outbreak, which is  “on a knife edge” ( the dire outlook prompted WHO to  overhaul its vaccination strategy   on Tuesday, and UN SG Guterres to commit the entire UN system to help end the outbreak ); the 5th UN Global Road Safety week; the International Day of the Midwife;  the launch of the US Global Health Security strategy; dr. Tedros showing off some of his best German at a meeting in Berlin (“Gesundheit ist ein Menschenrecht!” & “Gesundheit für Alle!”a suggestion from his John F Kennedy loving speechwriter?), where Angela Merkel & other German politicians showed continued German support for global health,  and an important study in the Lancet on (worrying) alcohol abuse trends. Not just in Liverpool on memorable Tuesday football nights 😊.

Enjoy your reading.

Kristof Decoster



(you find the pdf of the full newsletter here: IHPn521 )

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