3 / 2022 // LEOPOLDINA / NEWS 5
Organization ( WHO ). At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 , he coined the now frequently quoted phrase “ None of us is safe until all of us are safe ”, calling on the world to think globally . Does this phrase apply to all matters concerning global health ? Wieler : I ’ m extremely glad that Mike Ryan will be joining us . His incisive phrase targets infectious diseases ; however , it is just as relevant to many areas of global health , including social determinants of health . The message behind this phrase is that we all need to look out for and take care of each other , making it a great catchphrase for bringing our global community together .
The Annual Assembly ’ s first session will be dedicated to social determinants of health . Does this reflect just how important this issue is ? Wieler : Social determinants such as unemployment , education and living environments as well as supportive friends or other networks have a crucial impact on health behaviour . The COVID-19 pandem ic indeed confirmed this .
In Germany , less educated people were twice as likely to become infected as compared to highly educated people . And during the second phase of the pandemic , mortality in low-income regions was 1.5 times higher than in pros perous regions . This clearly indicates the importance of ensuring equal living circumstances for everyone . The objective of global health is to minimise social , economic and environmental risks to health on both a national and an international level .
That is a big task . Where is the best place to start ? Wieler : International regulations have an important role to play . Global treaties like the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control need to be drawn up in more areas . In order to reduce health risks , issues endangering health must be considered in all areas of politics . This approach is known as “ health in all policies ” and requires all political decisions to be made on the basis of whether they are beneficial to human health .
Lothar H . Wieler ML
President of the Robert Koch Institute and Acting Senator of the Leopoldina ’ s Global Health section , which created and prepared the programme for the Annual Assembly 2022 together with the Veterinary Medicine section .
Image : J . Reetz , Brauer Fotos | RKI
During the Annual Assembly ’ s opening address , you will discuss the lessons that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us about global health . What are they ? Wieler : I find two of the lessons it taught us especially important . Firstly , when we compare countries around the world , it is evident that good , stable political leadership which enjoys the trust of the population is essential for handling crises like this . Unstable or corrupt systems are more likely to fall short of the mark .
The second lesson is that excellent public health is just as important as having an excellent healthcare system . Even here in Germany , it is essential to rethink public health and to strengthen the case for prevention . One way to achieve this is by sharing more knowledge about infection control . An even more important strategy is to raise awareness about the risk factors for chronic degenerative diseases to help people to protect themselves . Over all , we need to do more to give people the knowledge and ability to lead healthy lifestyles . Here the living conditions are of great importance .
Has the pandemic attracted more attention to the concept of global health ?
Wieler : Pandemics make us more aware of just how connected and interdependent the world really is . This also became apparent during the Ebola pandemic in 2014 and 2015 , which led to Germany developing its first global health strategy . However , global health efforts must not under any circumstances be limited to infectious diseases . There are broader challenges to tackle . The main dis ease burden is from chronic degenerative diseases like cancer , cardiovascular diseases and diabetes . While policymakers often only respond to acute crises , our job as scientists is to consider the causes of the burden of disease longterm , both objectively and strategically .
You are the Acting Senator of the Global Health section of the Leopoldina , which was established in 2020 . How is it taking shape ? Wieler : The section is still at an early stage of development and currently has fewer than ten members . The Veterinary Medicine section helped us to organise the Annual Assembly , allowing us to put together a broad programme featuring international speakers .
Perhaps the event will encourage more Leopoldina members to join us . We hope to elect outstanding scientists for the section from areas important for global health such as health economics , health equity and mental health . After all the strength of our section is its interdisciplinarity .
What other plans do you have ? Wieler : We intend to organise workshops in collaboration with other national academies . And given how global health is increasingly being perceived as a political priority , we will certainly join working groups to contribute to statements for policymakers . If we can fully harness the power of the Leopoldina ’ s interdisciplinary potential , society as a whole will benefit the most from our work .
■ THE INTERVIEW WAS CONDUCTED BY ANNE BRÜNING
Annual Assembly on Global Health