"Roadmap for a healthier future"

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Oyewale Tomori, president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, in his talk about infectious disease control and prevention, vigorously argued that individual countries have to invest in their own public health systems if they are going to control diseases like Ebola. International cooperation is good, but if a country can’t contain its own diseases, then they will spread out of control.

“The weakest link in the chain is in the country itself,” said Tomori. “Cutting corners will not lead to excellence.”

The fight against disease will also mean preserving our most effective existing defenses. Anthony So of the Global Health Signature Initiative of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discussed the importance of combating the growing problem of resistance developing to many of our antimicrobial drugs.

Frighteningly, a 2015 study found colistin, an antibiotic that serves as the last line of defence, became less effective in China where it was widely being used in farm animals. In response, China reduced the non-therapeutic use of the drug in livestock by 30%. So noted that China could go even further, taking advantage of a remarkable opportunity to simultaneously promote healthier lifestyles by reducing the population’s meat consumption.

”Many would argue that the drug should be removed entirely from farm animals,” said So. “Otherwise we might wind up with everybody’s nightmare: A superbug that is pan-resistant to antibiotics.”

Major health challenges don’t only come in the form of infectious diseases. Addiction, mental health, and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer are also growing concerns as people worldwide live longer lives. But the best way to control these diseases is to encourage healthy lifestyles.

Smoking is one major problem that the world must confront confirmed Kelvin Chuan Heng Khow of the Tobacco Free Initiative and World Health Organization, in his talk highlighting the importance of tobacco control. About 80-90% of smokers begin the extremely addictive habit before the age of 18, he pointed out, including some 25% before the age of 10.

“It’s the only legal consumer product that can kill two-thirds of its consumers when used according to manufacturer’s instructions,” said Khow. “Up to a billion deaths in the next century are possible if there’s no change.”

The topic of promoting health was also discussed from several other diverse angles. One session focused on the role of traditional medicine in the future of promoting health, while other speakers explored how to approach health issues amid urban expansion and how social marketing can guide people toward healthier behaviour. The final session investigated transforming the health sector and how to build capacity in developing and emerging and economies while reaching everyone – leaving no-one behind – including in developed economies.

The IAP for Health conference was organized in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, and sponsored by the China Health and Medical Development Foundation.

By Sean Treacy, TWAS Public Information Office