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REPORT | HEALTH THREATS – Policies to counter risks to global health

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Risks to global health are growing, increasing the need for urgent, coordinated, top-level political action. This was the key conclusion at a Friends of Europe ‘Café Crossfire’ lunch debate on 16 November. The risks include well-known viruses such as Ebola and Zika, but one of the deadliest threats could be antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – with one estimate suggesting that drug-resistant infections could kill ten million people a year by 2050.

“If there is no political commitment to really fight against AMR, it will never work,” said Marc Sprenger, Director for Antimicrobial Resistance at the World Health Organization (WHO) and Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Disease Control (ECDC) (2010-2015). “The only way to really start to attack this problem is a multi-sectoral approach,” he added.

One sign of hope came in the shape of a day-long meeting of world leaders, held at the UN General Assembly in September, to discuss AMR. They committed to a broad, coordinated approach to address the root causes of AMR in sectors such as human health, animal health and agriculture.

Increased cooperation between academics, health systems and the pharmaceutical industry is also essential to deal with global risks. This cooperation will help to speed up the clinical development of new drugs that can combat aggressive infections. Other panellists said it will be important to engage and support the most vulnerable communities, and to build up expertise and health infrastructure in developing countries.

“If you had to list the threats to the world, health risks would be very high,” said Tamsin Rose, Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe. “The only way to tackle them is by concerted global efforts. There is no such thing as a local health threat anymore.”

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