Health challenges and possible cooperative solutions

Article by Lia Maria Paola, traducción española Diego Beamonte
13 May 2012

The Geneva Health Forum (GHF) has been launched by the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) and the Faculty of Medicine, in cooperation with international organizations, local partners and civil society active in health in Switzerland and around the world. The location of the conference has been strategically selected. In fact Geneva is considered the health capital of the world, hosting the World Health Organization (WHO) and a wide range of other international institutions.

The first Geneva Health Forum took place in 2006 at the time of the 150th anniversary of the University Hospitals of Geneva. Since then, the conference has been held every two years. In 2012, the Forum successfully organized its fourth edition from 18 to 20 April 2012, with a participation of a large variety of organizations and attendees from over 65 countries.

The main theme of the conference this year has been chronic conditions with focus on NCDs, (non communicable diseases) such as cancer, cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes, respiratory diseases, etc.

ICVolunteers has been involved in the Forum since the very first edition, this year working with volunteers involved in video reporting, photography, welcoming services and room coordination.

According to WHO, chronic diseases constitute a major cause of mortality in the world, representing over 60% of all deaths in 2005.
We are so used to wrongly associate chronic illnesses with low income countries, but when we actually consider that most of the common chronic diseases are caused by dietary, lifestyle and metabolic risk factors, we realize that we are all concerned. In fact, the profile of some non communicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries is similar to that in rich nations and hence patients are susceptible to the same interventions.
This suggests that we probably need to rethink the way we address complexity in health problems, in both developed and emerging economies. This means putting patients and their life conditions at the center of the process, rather than specific diseases.

While early detection and effective treatment is needed to avoid premature deaths, we should stress the importance of prevention. During the Geneva Health Forum, the World Health Professions Alliance (WHPA) presented the health improvement card, a simple tool designed to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases worldwide. This simple educational instrument allows assessing and recording lifestyle and biometric risk factors. What emerges is the need to avoid tobacco use and harmful alcohol consumption; practice regular physical activity, achieve and maintain healthy weight, improve diet, manage tension and stress (for more information, please visit
The main principle is to educate individuals on positive behavior and lifestyle changes: prevention is essential and it is also cost effective.

When describing diseases and human well-being we should also think of environment though. Dr. Martin Beniston of the University of Geneva enumerated the Climate determinants for human well being: water, health and food. In addition to climate, poverty and demographics, limited access to healthcare, education and technology also significantly affect well-being.
With this in mind, we can understand that many elements and social factors are linked and have a significant impact on health. For example, recent studies show how migrants, which, if all put into one nation state would constitute the 6th largest country of the world, are exposed to additional risk factors.

But how much does a patient understand of what the healthcare professionals are explaining about his/her health condition or his/her disease? This is crucial as diseases like type 2 diabetes depends a lot on self-management, so diagnosis and empowerment are also very important.

Prevention is the best way to approach NCDs, but unfortunately chronic diseases cannot always be prevented, so organizing care is the important response of public health care departments.

Based on these earlier considerations, a system for preventing and controlling NCDs should include:

  • Prevention (at hospital level and with civil society, i.e. organizing information sessions in schools and with NGOs);
  • Awareness and advocacy (inform and empower the patients; advocate for efficient health care systems);
  • Train of Trainers sessions for healthcare providers (training the healthcare providers to train other health care professionals to prevent, treat and manage the diseases and related psychological aspects);
  • Having access to affordable efficient drugs;
  • Correct use of drugs.

To achieve these goals, Public and Private Partnerships (PPPs) can play a significant role.

As it clearly emerged during the GHF12 event, chronic diseases are influenced by socio-economic factors, like economic development, life-style, urbanization, climate change, but also level of education and gender inequalities. For all these reasons, a multi-sectorial approach is needed. This is why platforms like the Geneva Health Forum are so important to convene meetings with critical stakeholders and share best health practices.

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