Global health: 4 reasons to be optimistic despite the current challenges

  • Pandemics, environmental factors and geopolitical tensions are all impacting progress in global health.
  • Despite these challenges, groundbreaking scientific and medical advances are curing disease and developing groundbreaking diagnostics, treatments and therapies.
  • Public-private partnerships are key to building new, sustainable systems that support the future of global health.

A quick glance at the headlines doesn’t suggest that now is the time for optimism about global health. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect hundreds of millions of people around the world, routine healthcare services and vaccination campaigns struggle to catch up to the pandemic, and there are even fears that the millions of people displaced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to an increase in the number of diseases such as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) in Europe.

These new challenges will not go away on their own, nor are they the only problems facing global health: COVID-19 variants, new pathogens driven by climate change, rising numbers of previously controlled infections and increasing global mobility could all lead to a new pandemic.

Against this backdrop, public and private sector leaders will meet at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. High on the agenda will be the need to drive rapid acceleration of scientific and medical breakthroughs through a renewed focus in public-private partnerships as drivers for building new, sustainable systems in and out of health and healthcare.

The good news is that we are already seeing signs of progress. Between 2011-2020, the US FDA alone approved an average of 41 new molecular entities for use in treatment development — nearly double the number in the previous decade. In addition, during the same period we also saw groundbreaking advances, including treatments for previously chronic diseases and the emergence of new types of therapies and vaccines.

Against this rapidly changing backdrop, the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare has identified four reasons for optimism fueled by collaborations in the global health space, drawing on the lessons learned over the past two years in discovering and delivering medical market breakthroughs:

1. Global health as a global priority

The pandemic has changed the way individuals, businesses and governments think about health, and public health in particular. Companies outside the health sector – those with no commercial interest in selling health-related services and products – recognize more than ever that health is critical to their economic performance. That brings new thinking and new expertise to the health space. We are also seeing new interest in how investors think about the role of companies in relation to health inequalities, such as through the Global Health Equity Network.

2. New structures and systems

From the UK’s RECOVERY COVID-19 clinical trial program to the collaboration between Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Novo Nordisk Foundation and Open Philanthropies in the Pandemic Antiviral Discovery (PAD) program, the effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine has proven that new development models are possible. To promote fair access to vaccines, new vaccine production sites are being built in Africa and other regions that currently lack such capacity. We also see a concentrated push for new financial models to accelerate drug development where market incentives have failed, such as for new antibiotics.

This week saw the first trial of a COVID-19 vaccine in humans.

CEPI, launched at the World Economic Forum, has funded the Phase 1 study. The organization announced their seventh COVID-19 vaccine project this week in the fight against the pandemic.


The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched in 2017 at the forum’s annual meeting – bringing together experts from government, business, healthcare, academia and civil society to advance the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases. accelerate and enable access to these vaccines during outbreaks.

Coalitions such as CEPI are made possible through public-private partnerships. The World Economic Forum is the trusted global platform for stakeholder engagement, bringing together a range of multi-stakeholders from business, government and civil society to improve the state of the world.

Organizations can partner with the Forum to contribute to global health solutions. Contact us to find out how.

3. Using Artificial Intelligence

For years, artificial intelligence (AI) was touted as an accelerator for health innovations, but practical applications were scarce. This is now rapidly changing: Startling breakthroughs in protein analysis, drug discovery, AI-assisted X-rays and AI-assisted chatbots to tackle infectious diseases such as tuberculosis are bringing new technology to fruition in several ways. Many of the opportunities for AI to revolutionize healthcare lie ahead.

A critical component to building trust and successfully leveraging AI in the health space is new governance frameworks. Here too we see progress, such as the partnership between the Forum and the Government of Rwanda.

4. Manage data

As with AI, there has been a lot of hype around ‘big data’ and progress has been made. In addition to the RECOVERY study mentioned above, efforts to use shared data from wearable devices to identify early indicators of Alzheimer’s disease are streamlining efforts to combat a growing global problem. We have also seen health outcomes registries, such as those for certain eye surgeries in Europe, begin to drive major value improvements in healthcare and new approaches to sharing critical pathogen genomic data. Such work is complemented by ambitious goals to expand pathogen surveillance systems for pandemic prevention and for day-to-day public health decision-making.

Public-private partnerships that build trust

Of course, all of these advancements depend on the right support systems, especially governance and privacy frameworks when it comes to personal data and the way it is processed. As COVID-19 has shown, trust can have serious public health implications if people don’t trust systems, such as those related to vaccine development or application. Public and private stakeholders need to work together to ensure sustainable, robust structures are in place to support progress.

With an unparalleled focus on health from all stakeholders, new structures and systems, and AI and big data starting to demonstrate their full impact, there is much to be optimistic about for the future of global health, all of which offer opportunities and require for public-private partnerships.


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