Global health policy challenges

The process of globalisation has far-reaching implications for public health. For instance, it enables the spread of diseases and other health threats across national borders. Their spread is amplified by increases in travel and trade. This example shows that health challenges cannot be overcome by one country or sector alone, but only through cooperation.

Preventable deaths from infectious diseases and, increasingly also chronic non-communicable diseases hamper economic growth and development opportunities and compromise the social and political stability of entire regions. They are a major cause of lost development opportunities. 

However, globalisation not only confronts public health with challenges, it also offers a wealth of new opportunities and promising approaches to resolving these challenges. Increased mobility and novel communication processes have made access to medication, technologies, knowledge and research considerably easier. Stronger international networking has helped secure health topics a permanent place on the international agenda.

Current health policy challenges

Health is at risk from a number of natural and human-made threats. These include natural disasters, the consequences of climate change, environmental pollution and chemical and nuclear accidents as well as communicable diseases. Some of the newly emerging diseases can spiral into epidemics and even pandemics. Measures taken to guard against such incidents are subsumed under the term of “health security”.

Due to international air traffic, tourism and trade relations, new risks of infection can reach every corner of the earth within a matter of hours or days. Epidemics can cause serious and long-lasting economic consequences in the blink of an eye. Pathogens that jump from animals to humans and those that cause food-borne infections are responsible for thousands of outbreaks globally, also in Germany. Health security cannot be a task incumbent on any one country alone – it is a challenge for the entire international community. This has been starkly demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Antibiotics are the most effective means of treating bacterial infections, including life-threatening nosocomial infections. Yet their effectiveness is at risk, since inappropriate use has led to antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial resistance is a natural mechanism whereby an antibiotic that would usually prevent the growth of a certain type of bacteria, is no longer effective.

German support has been instrumental in making progress in areas critical to reducing antimicrobial resistance. Among other things, it helped to develop national plans to reduce antimicrobial resistance in 15 countries, to strengthen national AMR surveillance systems and to promote antibiotic stewardship in hospitals in 17 countries.

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Infectious diseases are among the most common causes of death worldwide. Specifically, most of these deaths are caused by pneumonia, diarrhoeal diseases, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Moreover the increase in antimicrobial resistance makes many infectious diseases even more difficult to treat. Vaccinations are among the most effective means of preventing infectious diseases.

Globalisation promotes the homogenisation of consumption patterns and lifestyles across the world. This leads to the spread of non-communicable chronic diseases, especially in the new middle class of many newly industrialised and developing countries. The risk factors include tobacco and harmful alcohol consumption, an unhealthy diet, a lack of physical activity and air pollution.

A major instrument for Germany is the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It is the first worldwide convention that seeks to reduce tobacco use. In addition, Germany has also ratified the associated Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. Its purpose is to globally fight the illicit trade in tobacco products.

Moreover, Germany is one of the five founding members and third-largest contributor to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that is headquartered in Lyon (France). IARC is a WHO agency that conducts epidemiological studies on cancer worldwide to investigate its causes and develops prevention strategies. 

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