Dr Farley Cleghorn, epidemiologist, infectious disease expert, and Palladium Global Head of Health, shares his predictions for the global health sector in 2023.
Looking ahead to 2023, there are a few of what I call ‘transitional issues’ that I expect will bleed into the new year, especially in the global health sector. The first, being the impossible to ignore, is COVID-19.
COVID-19 and the Global Health Security Question
As much as we all want to move past the pandemic, it’s not yet over. From a social and a mitigation perspective, COVID-19 is still with us, but unless we see a severe variant emerge over the coming winter, we probably won’t see any reimposition of restrictions. Despite that, it doesn’t mean that every sector can forget about it, and surveillance will continue to be of utmost importance, both within the population and within our laboratories where we track, study, and understand the novel coronavirus, its variants, and implications.
This leads directly into global health security and our efforts around the world to prevent the next pandemic. While we are still processing all the lessons of coronavirus, we learned a lot that will help us deal with the next novel organism. It’s a hot button issue and one we continue to discuss, yet very little funding has gone towards it. While we continue to hear predictions that global health security will be better resourced or get more attention, unfortunately I don’t see any opportunities where the landscape for work within the sector will open up soon.
The broader issue is one of competing priorities, but I’m hopeful that this year we may get a clearer understanding of what both the multilateral and bilateral commitments will be for global health security. Once those are established, we can move forward more cohesively to continue our control of COVID-19 and ensure that we aren’t caught off guard again by another pandemic.
Refugees and Climate Disasters
People are on the move. We currently have the greatest number of refugees globally in history, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, a looming global recession, food shortages, and climate change – and the ripple effects will be wide-reaching. As more people shift around, we can expect to see two major effects: an increase in infectious diseases and water-borne diseases (e.g., in refugee camps), and a greater strain on health systems. We need to be proactively thinking about bolstering the healthcare systems within countries that are taking in refugees.
For organisations implementing development assistance like Palladium, I expect we will see more inclusion of the intersection of climate change and health in donor priorities. If the natural disasters of 2022 were any indication, the trends are real. We cannot discount the effects that our changing climate will have on our health, both physical and mental. We’re modelling how climate change will continue to affect health and global health systems and infrastructure. This is a whole of society problem and needs whole of society solutions.
Consider Pakistan, which just experienced some of the worst flooding in its history, largely due to climate change. As they rebuild, healthcare infrastructure must be taken into consideration – can clinics be built on higher ground or elevated by a couple of feet? Do hospitals need to have boats to transport vulnerable patients during flooding?
And that’s just infrastructure; how can we address the unseen mental toll of the climate crisis in our populations or mitigate the effects of rising temperatures on our bodies? I’m hopeful, as our teams and projects are already building climate change mitigation into our work in the health sector and looking around at emerging best practices that can be disseminated.
Humanity has always adapted to big challenges, and 2023 will be no different in that regard.