Emerging infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance threaten global health security and economic and social well-being. Enhancing partnerships across sectors, building stronger health systems and improving preparedness are key to countering these threats, heard participants at the Prince Mahidol Award Conference last week in Bangkok.

Over 1,200 public health experts from 85 countries gathered from 29 January to 3 February 2018 to exchange knowledge and collaborate on developing a shared global vision for action. The Prince Mahidol Award Conference is an annual global public health policy conference hosted by the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation, the Thai Ministry of Public Health, Mahidol University and other global partners. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is a co-host of the conference, along with the World Health Organization, the World Bank and  others.

This year’s theme was “Making the World Safe from the Threats of Emerging Infectious Diseases”, and featured sessions focusing on a range of issues related to the key drivers of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

Increases in antimicrobial resistance and zoonotic threats, coupled with the effects of climate change, environmental degradation, conflicts, natural disasters, urbanization and unprecedented travel are elevating the threat of disease outbreaks. Despite having gained immense experience since the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic 100 years ago, including most recently with the Ebola and Zika viruses, the world remains ill prepared to deal with such events.

During the week-long conference, UNDP participated in and organized several sessions focusing on the social, economic and environmental determinants of health and their interlinkages, in line with the organization’s HIV, Health and Development Strategy and the new UNDP Strategic Plan - an ambitious blueprint that responds to new challenges for development in the 21st century. The Plan is anchored in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and is committed to the principles of universality, equality and leaving no one behind.

An area of work that featured prominently in the conference programme is the trans-disciplinary field of planetary health, which calls for the simultaneous safeguarding of human health and the natural systems that underpin it.

“Climate change and environmental degradation don't impact people equally. Those with fewer assets and resources, and those who are socially, economically or politically marginalized are especially vulnerable,” said Mandeep Dhaliwal, Director, HIV, Health and Development Group, UNDP at a Side Event on Strategies and Solutions for a Sustainable Society organized by the Global Health Asia Institute. “The planetary health agenda is about making sure that we don't leave people or the planet behind.”

UNDP also organized a Parallel Session on Climate Change and Emerging Diseases: The Importance of Resilient Societies. The session explored how changes in climate and weather patterns are having an impact on distributions and risks of infectious diseases, including vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue, as well as food and water borne diseases such as Ebola and West Nile virus.

“It’s important to remind ourselves that we don’t have to be passive witnesses of these changes occurring in our environment, but rather we need to be active agents of change – through proactive adaptation and mitigation measures – in order to control and alleviate the negative health impacts of climate change,” said Douglas Webb, Team Leader, Health and Innovative Financing, HIV, Health and Development Group, UNDP.

In partnership with Chatham House and the Rockefeller Foundation, UNDP, through the Access and Delivery Partnership for Health Technologies, organized a Parallel Session focusing on the importance of effective partnerships between the public, private and community sectors to address epidemics and infectious diseases, titled Policy Coherence: Effective Partnerships for Global Health.

Participants heard about the persistent threats and rising resistance to treatment of tuberculosis, malaria and other “neglected” diseases, signifying a clear need for an integrated approach to policymaking and partnerships that reach beyond the health sector, and extend to global, national and local levels.

“In order for countries to achieve the health-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, there must be emphasis placed on investing in developing health innovations, as well as strengthening health systems and capacities for health service provision,” said Nadia Rasheed, Team Leader, HIV, Health and Development in Asia and the Pacific, UNDP. “Public-private-community partnerships are absolutely critical to ensuring coherent policies across a broad range of sectors to meet the needs of vulnerable people and communities.” 

On the final day of the conference, a statement was released calling for unified global action to address the threats posed by emerging infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance.

This news story was originally published on the United Nations Development Progeamme’s website: http://www.asia-pacific.undp.org