Join the Debate: Wittenborg’s Globalisation Conference Discusses Global Health

Join the Debate Wittenborg’s Globalisation Conference Discusses Global Health

Theme Intersects with Healthcare, Geopolitics, Social Issues, Culture, Business and Technology

The COVID-19 pandemic put global health on the spotlight. In addition to causing deep transformations in various sectors, the sanitary crisis also changed how the global population views and addresses health-related matters. However, it is important to highlight that the term 'global health' encompasses much more than the pandemic, which is just an example of a situation related to this field of study.

This broad topic, which has implications on all spheres of life, is Theme 9 of Wittenborg’s Globalisation Conference, set to take place from 14 to 16 August in Apeldoorn. Academics, students, policy-makers and industry professionals are welcome to submit their intellectual contributions and join the debate (see the submission deadlines and guidelines here). 

Wittenborg Associate Professor of Applied Sciences Dr Cha-Hsuan Liu points out that all human beings and our living environment are connected nowadays, and in addition to physical health, the global population also faces challenges regarding mental health. 

“Besides contagious diseases, the prevalence of chronic diseases such as heart conditions and diabetes is also a global issue. At the same time, when it comes to mental health, we see that global events such as wars and violent attacks affect everyone, and not only the direct victims.” 

According to Liu, global health issues are related to socio-political factors such as how healthcare systems are maintained and even to measures concerning local and national infrastructure policies. 

“For instance, if a highway is built in front of your house, the intense traffic will impact your daily life. The noise and the CO2 emissions might affect your health and your lifestyle, and even cause illness. The same goes when we are talking about where facilities such as power plants, landfills and water treatment stations will be constructed. They are usually installed in faraway or rural areas, where the disadvantaged segments of the population live. This is a kind of injustice because it places an extra burden on these people. Therefore, global health is also connected to social equality and equity issues.” 

Liu underscores that global inequalities and environmental issues including climate change are pivotal in shaping the context of global health. 

“The division between the Global North and the Global South also affects global health matters. Developed countries often relocate their factories to developing nations and send their waste to these regions, sometimes compensating them financially. However, developing countries often lack the proper infrastructure to manage these materials, leading to their disposal in rural areas, which in turn affects the health of local communities.” 

Liu adds that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, developed countries like the United States and European nations had access to vaccines long before the vast majority of African countries. “The global discrepancies regarding the distribution of vaccines were very clear. The fact is that countries need international political power to have access to drugs, medicines and vaccines. So, many developing countries have started to realise how important it is to engage in international diplomacy and to become part of international organisations in order to have more negotiation power.” 

According to the associate professor, cultural and ideological factors also played a significant role in the way countries responded to the pandemic.  

“In Asian countries, for example, the governments determined that everyone had to wear masks and the population complied with it, because the majority of the people considered these collective practices as a way of saving lives. In contrast, many individuals in Western countries refused to wear masks or get vaccinated due to prioritising individual freedom over other values. The response to the pandemic was also affected by the political ideologies of the governments in power. Furthermore, responses were influenced by the dissemination of news, information, fake news and conspiracy theories across various media platforms.”

Impacts on business and technology  

Liu highlights that researchers can also delve on the significant developments that businesses, the economy and technology have experienced in light of the pandemic and other global health trends.  

Among them are the changes to logistics and international mobility. “We now have many small businesses dedicated to logistics, while previously we had to rely solely on major players like DHL to provide these services. Mobility has also changed, with many events, conferences and other activities now taking place online. Because of this, the market of online meeting platforms has boomed. During the pandemic, when there were flight restrictions, people opted for travelling more often on buses and trains. This also raised awareness about sustainability issues; nowadays, in Europe, in-person events often give people vouchers for travelling by train instead of plane tickets.” 

Regarding the field of healthcare, the associate professor underlines that people have started caring more about their mental and physical health, engaging more often in activities such as mindfulness practices, yoga and meditation. Additionally, the interest in sports and physical exercise has also increased. 

The health tech sector, in turn, has gone through major breakthroughs. One example is the fact that, previously, the pipeline to develop vaccines, medicines and other pharmaceutical products would take from 10 to 20 years. Now, these procedures can take as fast as six months to one year.  

“In light of the urgency of the pandemic, people needed to adopt faster processes to mass-produce drugs and vaccines. Several new technologies have been implemented to the processes of R&D (research and development) and production. One example is the organ-on-a-chip, which creates ‘human in vitro models’ for both healthy and diseased organs, offering drug advancements in toxicity screening and also replacing animal testing.” 

Liu also comments that the number of international cooperations in the medical care industry is on the rise. She mentions the fact that Pfizer and other players among the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies developed and patented COVID-19 vaccines but then licensed their intellectual property to different corporations such as BioNTech, from Germany. By doing this, they were able to speed up production and distribution in different parts of the world. 

Liu believes that this kind of international cooperation is bound to be increasingly more frequent, highlighting that it is connected to the rise of the intangible economy, which encompasses assets such as patents, brands, trademarks and copyrights. 

“If we want to supply certain products on a global scale, then we need to think globally and invest in consortiums involving corporations from different countries or even continents. That is also what happened in Africa, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) took into account the shortage of vaccines and demanded that the big pharma companies issued their patents to certain African countries. This way, the vaccines could be produced and distributed locally and effectively,” she concludes.

WUP 17/04/2024 
by Ulisses Sawczuk 
©WUAS Press