Dear Colleagues,

Last week I was among the happy few to attend GLOBAL HEALTH 2011, the first joint conference organized by the British Medical Journal and the UK NGO NICE International (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) in London. It wants to improve global health by promoting cost-effective, evidence-informed healthcare policy making. None other than the Turkish and the Vietnamese Minister of Health and the former NHS Chief Executive, to name only some of the big shots there, were invited to share how important evidence and the role of certain (NICE-like) institutions are in turning evidence into policy and practice through their guidance in rational decision-making on public health, health technologies and clinical practice in a world with limited resources. A controversial issue was the question whether the current donor paradigm is doing more harm than good by funding health programmes in less developed countries without expecting a financial contribution from their government. It wasn’t exactly clear whether this amounted to an excuse to stop the funds transfer altogether or a plea for smart subsidies?

Now in Geneva on a short work trip, the eloquence of the presenters of last week stands in sharp contrast with the silent protest of the anti-nuclear groups that each day since the disaster in Chernobyl in 1986 occupy the pavement in front of international buildings. Although the dreadful evidence of Chernobyl is long known, little has been reported about those protests. It took another Fukushima before some big powers such as Germany and Switzerland commenced to consider phasing out their reactors (and did so in a number of cases). Personally, I feel ambiguous about nuclear energy, but I admire their persistence.

After an afternoon in the claustrophobic alleys of the WHO building, you could easily imagine the building’s lighting shifting gradually to a film noir scene, with shadows splashing across the never-ending rows of identical offices where committed global health believers, though their numbers have been recently thinned (or is it rationalized), continue to work hard to improve health for all.

The building’ s late sixties outlook doesn’t quite match the sleek design of my Mac. In my hotel room in Geneva I take a long nostalgic look at my Apple, the symbol of a generation, sipping from a cold black coffee. No Cluedo needed to detect the killer of one of the icons of the 21st century…Steve Jobs died at the age of 56 from cancer… but instead of drafting a gloomy picture, let’s be inspired by Jobs’ “stay hungry, stay foolish” mantra  in our fight against non-communicable diseases. Global health could use more charismatic leaders like him.

An Appelmans

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