UK strategy for better global health

6 October 2008

UK Health Secretary Alan Johnson has launched a new £12 million strategy for improving global health, based on improved global health security, more robust and equitable health and trade systems, more effective international health organizations and better use of evidence for policy and practice (see press release).

The report Health is Global: a UK Government strategy notes that health is a ‘global public good’ benefiting societies around the world, and that Public health interventions, such as a cure for a disease, communicable disease control or the dissemination of research, are also global public goods”. Addressing issues that relate to monitoring and control of infectious diseases that could threaten public health in the UK and those that primarily affect the developing world are one of the main concerns of the report, but several other areas are also explored.

One point of note is the potential for improved information sharing and access to innovation and health-related knowledge via the internet and wireless communications. Possible benefits cited are the capacity to create global health and public health initiatives, or to keep doctors in developing countries up to date with medical developments. A key disadvantage is proposed to be the exposure to unregulated forms of health information and products (drugs and diagnostics), which poses a risk to patient safety. The Foundation is involved in international efforts to devise an appropriate system for the evaluation and regulation of genetic tests and biomarkers, to address this problem in one specific arena; the report itself recognizes that “providing technical assistance or influencing policy is a real way to make an impact on global health”.

Another major focus of the report is on health research, suggesting that the UK has much to offer in terms of health research with potential global benefits, citing the example of UK involvement in international frameworks for health research such as the Council of Europe’s Additional Protocol to the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine and UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights.

Ways in which the UK should maximize biomedical research and development efforts and resources to benefit global health highlighted include:

  • encouraging research into the diseases of the developing world
  • building networks for sharing health knowledge and information
  • identifying knowledge gaps to which the UK can contribute
  • establishing systems to facilitate lesson learning from knowledge generated in other countries

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