Blog Post
World Health Day. cred - Graham Crouch World Bank

Jamie Enoch uses World Health Day as a chance to reflect on 2014’s research highlights in global health, and look forward to what lies ahead.

Happy World Health Day to all! This year’s World Health Day is focussed on the important issue of food safety and foodborne illness. However I thought it was also a good moment to take stock of some big issues in global health on UKCDS’ radar and look forward to the year ahead.

Ebola’s devastating impacts in West Africa have dominated the headlines this year, both in the press and the research funding world. The Wellcome Trust, Department for International Development, Medical Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Gates Foundation, Pasteur, Fondation Mérieux and other funders teamed-up in various combinations to fund vaccine and treatment trials at unprecedented speed, as well as anthropological and other social science research.

UV screening of Ebola health worker (Image: DFID)

With the focus now on getting to zero cases, a number of key organisations are stepping back to consider Ebola in its broader context, in terms of the outbreak’s implications for development and preparedness for future epidemics. For example:

  • Médecins Sans Frontières’ report, Pushed to the Limit and Beyond, critically considers the slow response by the international community and also illustrates the scale of the knock-on health effects of Ebola, with the crisis leading to increases in untreated malaria, delivery complications and road traffic accidents.
  • Save the Children’s A Wake-Up Call ranks the quality of countries’ health systems, finding that around 30 are worse off than those of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The amount of money needed to achieve universal healthcare in the three countries, and thus plug the most glaring gaps in their health systems, would have cost one-third of the total aid provided in response, and saved countless lives.

The UKCDS Ebola Research Database lists all academic research on Ebola

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) also moved to the top of the agenda in 2014, with senior figures warning of a return to the “dark ages of medicine”.

MRSA bacteria escaping a white blood cell (Image: NIAID)

And some other health developments in the past year…

As for the future of global health, it’s 2015 and the impending Sustainable Development Goals  present a milestone opportunity to catalyse progress in health and development. The current draft goal on health and wellbeing (number 3) puts forward an incredibly ambitious and diverse agenda. Targets include:

The eight Millenium Development Goals

  • Achieve universal health coverage
  • Reduce maternal mortality to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030
  • End the “big three” diseases of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis as well as NTDs by 2030
  • Strengthen treatment of alcohol and substance abuse.

This is only a selection of the many targets, and at the same time a few issues (such as antimicrobial resistance) are conspicuous in their absence. What makes it into the final framework, and how this affects future investments in global health research funding, will be decided at the UN Summit in September.

What key global health issues from the past year have I missed? What do you think are the highlights coming up this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.