Pandemics, Policy and Global Health Metrics

For our third seminar we were delighted to introduce Professor Mark Harrison and Dr Claudia Stein.

Professor Harrison is the Director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine and Co-Director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities at Oxford and of the Oxford Martin Programme on Collective Responsibility and Infectious Disease.  His current research projects include, health and medicine in the Victorian Navy, Malaria in Asia from 1900 – present and an Oxford Martin School Programme on Collective Responsibility for Infectious Disease.  Dr Claudia Stein, is a German trained medical doctor and epidemiologist with the World Health Organization (WHO), which she has been serving since 1998, and since 2010 as Director of the Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation at the WHO Office for Europe in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Professor Harrison’s talk examined how a particular view of pandemic disease has come to dominate the world of global health. He discussed the ways in which this concept has been conditioned by political and economic considerations and its limitations in preventing and managing international health emergencies. Drawing on a range of historical examples, he provided evidence to support recent calls for as ‘systems’ approach to pandemic disease, the risks of which can be substantially mitigated through development assistance.  He finds precursors for modern systems thinking in some surprising places, including the aftermath of some of the twentieth century’s major conflicts.

Dr Stein’s talk looked at ‘Measuring health and well-being: not merely the absence of disease and infirmity’.  WHO defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. However, for many decades, WHO has focused on measuring death, disease and disability, rather than health and well-being. With the European Health Reports 2012 and 2015, as well as the adoption of the European health policy, Health 2020, WHO Europe turned towards measuring and setting targets for well-being. This includes subjective (‘life satisfaction’) and objective elements, including education, social connectedness, economics but also security and the built environment, such as housing, communities, etc. In addition, WHO Europe embarked on a cross-cutting project which aims to elucidate the cultural context of health and well-being, acknowledging that the experience of well-being as well as policy-making for health and well-being are strongly influenced by culture. The presentation will make the link between these elements and outlines where WHO Europe is going next with its health metrics.

Please see below for the slides from the seminar: