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Takeaways from Global Health Expert Roundtable on Reimagining Public Health Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster Femi Oke joined public health leaders for an in-depth discussion on how to build better health systems to meet pressing challenges such as climate change, urban health, and noncommunicable diseases.  

November 1, 2021 (New York) – As the world continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we face concurrent threats to health globally that cannot be untended. As part of the VitalTalks speaker series, Vital Strategies convened global public health leaders for a conversation on how to repair deep cracks in public health systems exposed by the pandemic, and on the importance of strong, collaborative public health responses to challenges such as climate change, increasing urbanization and noncommunicable diseases. The event was timed to Vital Strategies new tag line and campaign launched earlier in the week: Reimagine Public Health.  

“At a time when health departments around the world are in crisis, public health remains underfunded, understaffed, and under threat. We must reimagine public health in a way that champions the importance and relevance of public health in our everyday lives and restore trust in these essential institutions,” said José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies.  

Participants in the event included:  

  • Femi Oke, International Journalist and Broadcaster  
  • José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies 
  • HRH Princess Dina Mired, Special Envoy for Noncommunicable Diseases, Vital Strategies 
  • Claudia Adriazola-Steil, Acting Director, Urban Mobility, and Director, Health & Road Safety, WRI Ross Center For Sustainable Cities 
  • Daniel Kass, Senior Vice President, Environmental Health, Vital Strategies  
  • Nandita Murukutla, Ph.D., Vice President, Global Policy and Research, Vital Strategies  
  • Jeremias N. Paul, Jr., Head of the Fiscal Policies for Health Unit in the Health Promotion Department at the World Health Organization  

Below are a few key takeaways from the event. The full recording is available here and transcript here. 

“The reason that we are reimagining public health or healthcare systems is because our pandemic we are in right now really showed the fault lines. We kind of knew already, but it was magnified by the pandemic.” – Femi Oke 

On A Collaborative Approach to Public Health: “The future of public health, demands that we stop looking for single-issue solutions and that we think more broadly about the connections that actually make a healthy society. Good health does not just happen. This means reimagining how global health organizations engage in the cities and countries in which they work, partnering with all levels of government and across sectors. And this means, working together with the very people most affected by health disparities to shape the policies needed to ease their health burdens.” – HRH Princess Dina Mired  

“The COVID-19 pandemic made clear the interconnectedness between all the different public health issues. We’ve been used to working in silos between communicable and noncommunicable diseases and this really threw that notion out of the window. Interconnectedness is central to public health and the development of societies.” – Nandita Murukutla, Ph.D. 

On Co-Benefits of Public Health Solutions: 

“Health taxes are a win -win -win. It’s a win for revenues, obviously. It’s a win for public health, because the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages are major risk factors. And it’s a win for equity.” – Jeremias N. Paul, Jr. 

“Taxes on ultra-processed foods would make these products out of reach and provide ministries and governments with sources of revenue…These products are bad for health. There is significant evidence now that ultra-processed products result in a number of illnesses from NCDs to weight gain and just general ill health, but they also have a detrimental impact on the environment. Because of the land use, biodiversity loss, and there’s evidence of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation of these goods, as well as the wastage that they result.” – Nandita Murukutla 

“In the climate space, we need to think about the potential public health benefits of decisions that we have to make now… When public health is factored into decision making what you find is that the benefits — in terms of lives saved, hospitalizations averted, avoidance of stunting or low birth weights — more than pay for the cost of the interventions necessary to green the economy, to convert fuel systems and  to invest in renewables.” – Daniel Kass 

One of the greatest problems of humanity right now is physical inactivity. If we can get people to cycle and to walk safely, because traffic crashes are also a concern, then we will see the levels of physical activity increase. What that means is we will have less chronic disease, less heart disease, less diabetes and obesity.” – Claudia Adriazola-Steil 

On Financing Public Health:  

“More and more countries are thinking about increasing deficits tremendously to deal with this crisis. Sooner or later you have to deal with how to fund this. One low-hanging fruit is why not raise taxes on tobacco and sugar-sweetened beverages…A lot of industries have been affected by COVID and a lot of people have lost their jobs. But we should not think of health as just an expenditure. Health is fundamental in any economic recovery.” – Jeremias N. Paul, Jr. 

On Building Trust in Public Health Systems:  

“We have to reckon with the fact that we have a lot of work to do to assert and reclaim our scientific authority with the public in order to be in a position to guide much of the work…Public health is a helping institution…Our role in public health is to assert the best available evidence and really engage the public and influence the levers that exist outside of public health.” – Daniel Kass 

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Speaker Bios:   

Femi Oke is an award-winning international journalist, broadcaster, professional moderator and the co-founder of the diverse moderator bureau “Moderate The Panel.” Femi’s reporting has been recognized by the News Emmys, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Communications Agency and InterAction. Read more: ​​https://bit.ly/3nESDPx 

José Luis Castro, FRSAis the President and CEO of Vital Strategies, where he has led a rapid expansion of Vital Strategies’ portfolio to tackle the world’s most difficult health challenges, primarily in low- and middle-income countries. The organization now reaches into 73 countries and has touched the lives of more than 2 billion people. Read more: ​​https://bit.ly/3nESDPx 

HRH Princess Dina Mired is a mother of a cancer survivor and is a well-known and respected global advocate for women’s health, cancer control and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). In 2018, at the UN High-Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases, she was named “Eminent Champion of the fight against Noncommunicable diseases.” She currently serves as Special Envoy for Noncommunicable Diseases at the global health organization Vital Strategies. Read more: https://bit.ly/3nESDPx 

Claudia Adriazola-Steil has worked in the transport sector for almost 20 years. As Director of Health and Road Safety at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, she focuses on the intersection of sustainable mobility, climate change, public health and equity. Over the last 11 years at WRI, Claudia has been instrumental in developing one of the most innovative road safety programs in the world, significantly influencing the international agenda, as well as those of national and local governments. Read more: https://bit.ly/3nESDPx 

Dr. Nandita Murukutla is a social scientist with a background in behavioral economics. At Vital Strategies, Dr. Murukutla leads research on the social, behavioral and political factors that affect the success of health interventions and policies. She collaborates with academic experts and leads a team of researchers in primary research, monitoring and evaluation, and policy analysis. Read more: https://bit.ly/3nESDPx 

Daniel Kass is the Senior Vice President, Environmental Health at Vital Strategies, where he leads a team working to use the tools of public health to address environmental threats and ensure healthy and sustainable outcomes for people living in an increasingly urbanized world. Mr. Kass is a notable expert on environmental health and environmental disease prevention, with nearly 30 years of experience in enforcement, policy and research programs. Read more: https://bit.ly/3nESDPx 

Jeremias N. Paul, Jris Head of the Fiscal Policies for Health Unit in the Health Promotion Department at the World Health Organization Headquarters in Geneva where he leads a team that provides strategic leadership, capacity building and specialized technical assistance in the field of fiscal measures for health, particularly on excise taxation on tobacco, alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverage products. Read more: https://bit.ly/3nESDPx 

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About Vital Talks   

VitalTalks brings together leading voices from diverse fields to discuss today’s most pressing public health challenges. The speaker series examines today’s often-overlooked drivers of poor health and the factors that get in the way of people’s access to—and experience of—a long, productive and healthy life. Join us as we advance bold ideas and innovative solutions, working for a world where everyone, everywhere is protected by a strong public health system.   #ReimaginePublicHealth #VitalTalks  

About Vital Strategies  

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.  Stay in the know: Follow #KnowCOVID or subscribe to Vital Strategies’ TwitterFacebook or Instagram accounts.