The College hosted a Global Health conference on Wednesday 21 February, where doctors considered how our health and the environment are affected by food systems, increased urbanisation, and climate change. They also considered the role of environmental health policy in responding to the intrusive and increasingly dominant effect that humans are having on natural systems worldwide. 

A series of talks from international experts were given on the major challenges to introducing new vaccines, chronic diseases, mental health, and safeguarding health for future years within the context of environmental change. The conference was webstreamed to 25 international sites.

Professor Sir Andy Haines, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, discussed the highly topical issue of marine ecosystems. It is estimated that each year, more than 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced globally, 10% of which will end up in the sea. Sir Andy argued that biodiversity is driven by current patterns of unequal and resource intensive development, together with population growth.

Saskia Heijnen, of Wellcome Trust, discussed the Our Planet, Our Health programme, which predicts that by 2050, the world will need to produce 60% more food if current trends in diets and population growth continue; that the number of people living in cities globally will increase to 66% of the global population; and that climate change will cause an estimated 250,000 deaths a year.

Talks were also given on building public trust for vaccination programmes, and the progress and challenges relating to the control of malaria.

Keynote speaker, Professor Sir Brian Greenwood, is an expert on global malaria control:

“Considerable progress has been made in the control of malaria during the past two decades as a result of increased political and financial support for malaria control, which has allowed the scale up of interventions that were already available two decades ago. But, much more needs to be done. Although mortality from malaria worldwide has fallen by over 50% since 2000, and an increasing number of countries have succeeded in eliminating malaria, over 1,000 people still die from malaria each day, mostly young children in Africa.

“However, the news is not all gloomy. A number of novel anti-malarial drugs are being trialled and two new forms of insecticide-treated bed nets have recently been approved. Progress is being made in the development of malaria vaccines and the application of gene drive technologies to vector mosquitoes opens up exciting new approaches to the control of malaria and other mosquito borne diseases.

“Advances will continue to be made only if political and financial support for malaria control is sustained, and ideally increased, in endemic countries and by international organisations.”

College President, Professor Derek Bell OBE, added:

“I’m delighted to welcome this expert group of international speakers to our College. It’s fantastic to have experts from such a wide range of organisations – and countries – in Edinburgh to talk about some of the major challenges that global healthcare faces.

“This conference is significant at both an international and a national level. It’s important to learn lessons from international health research, and apply those lessons nationally, where appropriate. In particular, I was interested to hear more from our speakers about the impact climate change and the destruction of marine ecosystems have had on public health.

“I also enjoyed hearing from our keynote speaker, Professor Sir Brian Greenwood, about control of malaria and what more can be done in political and financial terms to assist experts working in endemic countries, particularly in Africa.”

Session 1 Chair, Professor Harish Nair from the Centre for Global Health Research in Edinburgh, said:

“This symposium brings together leaders in global health to discuss the current challenges across a range of issues (from infectious diseases to the complex interplay of risk factors for non-communicable diseases and the future of our planet). It also gives an opportunity to students, trainees and international participants who are joining by webstream to pick on some of the finest minds in global health.”

Paul Gillen

Contact: Paul Gillen 0131 247 3658