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Closing the health gap

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, outlines how research can help close the global health gap
Connect Research Closing the health gap

In an exclusive public lecture at the University, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, argues health care should be an inalienable human right. Yet, all too often, access remains a privilege. 

Half the world's population still cannot access essential health services, while 100 million are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of health expenses. But there is hope for change – advances in digital technologies, data insights and medical breakthroughs are opening up new possibilities to transform the future of healthcare. So how can we harness these opportunities to create a future with health care for all? 

To help answer this question, we welcomed Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (PhD Public Health Medicine, 2000), Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), back to campus as he received an honorary degree in recognition of his outstanding contribution to world health care. As part of celebrations to mark 25 years of our Masters in Public Health course, he gave a Vice-Chancellor's Lecture in which he outlined his vision for a healthier world and explained how universities like Nottingham can help make health care change a reality. 

"Health does not exist in a vacuum," said Tedros. "One of our major challenges is to address the environmental, economic, commercial and social determinants of health. Major demographic trends like urbanisation, migration and ageing populations, plus the existential threat of climate change, all pose significant challenges for human health. Addressing these trends is a challenge but also an opportunity. 

“The centre of gravity is the target to achieve universal health coverage by 2030. That’s WHO’s top priority because it’s the one target that, if achieved, will enable the achievement of the other disease-specific targets under the UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015.

“The benefits of universal health coverage go far beyond health – it’s a platform for development. It reduces poverty by removing one of its causes; it creates jobs for health workers; it stimulates productivity and economic growth by getting people off their sick beds and back to work; it improves gender equality because it’s often women who miss out on health services; and it helps protect countries against the effects of outbreaks and other emergencies. Countries that take a health-in-all policy approach will enjoy a triple dividend in terms of health, social and economic benefits. 

Advances in technologies will play a vital role for the future of health. Our job is to make sure that developments benefit the people who need them most, not become another reason people are left behind.

Achieving universal health coverage by 2030 is an ambitious aim. So how do we reorient our approach to health care to deliver the transformational changes we need?

“Ultimately, the future of health must be about promoting health and wellbeing, not treating disease,” explained Tedros. “Advances in digital technologies, big data, medicines, genomics, imaging and social sciences will all play a vital role. Science and research are critical for giving us new tools and for showing us what works and what doesn’t.

“The University of Nottingham is continuing to lead in some of the most important and cutting-edge areas of health research. I’m delighted that health is reflected in each of the University’s research priorities – from research on sustainable cities to create urban environments that nurture health; to transforming medicine by harnessing the power of technology; to developing transport, energy and materials to create a cleaner, greener and healthier future. In all these areas, Nottingham’s research is helping to push back the boundaries of the impossible.”

Developments in science and research will continue to provide the catalyst to drive health care advances, as they have driven the medical progress of the past. But to achieve a better future, it is our responsibility to ensure those advances are to the benefit of all.

“For WHO, science and research continue to be essential,” said Tedros. “Crucially, our job is to make sure that developments benefit the people who need them most, and do not become another reason people are left behind. Our conviction is that all people should have access to the best medicines, not only those who are fortunate enough to live in wealthy countries. That principle applies to every sphere of life, not just health. The ultimate measure of success for any science or research should be the extent to which it alleviates inequalities rather than exacerbating it.

“25 years from now, we will have a new set of challenges and opportunities. But my hope is that we will look back and be proud of the progress we have made, not regret that we missed the opportunities we had.”

Pushing back the boundaries of the impossible

At the University, our world-leading research is focused on tackling today's global challenges and creating a better future for all. Here are just some of the projects we're working on: 

  • A new generation of medical imaging tools, including a pocket-sized MRI sensor which can measure sodium content in the skin, often an indicator of serious health conditions.
  • A pioneering blood test, which can detect lung cancer at an early stage, and is being developed further to detect breast and gastrointestinal cancers. 
  • Developing a new range of technologies to evolve energy storage within electric vehicles, helping to create a cleaner and more sustainable future for transport. 
  • Working with international partners to alleviate the causes of 'hidden hunger' in Sub-Saharan Africa, helping find solutions to tackle damaging micronutrient deficiencies in rural populations. 

Discover more health research in Vision magazine 

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