Exclusive Commentary: Davos Reflections

Nearly every January since 2003, Alfred Sommer has journeyed to Switzerland to participate in the annual World Economic Forum. This year Sommer, Dean Emeritus of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, sent GHN his highlights on health from Davos.

This year's annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which concluded Saturday, had the usual panels and workshops on the future of health and health care, and how these were likely to be impacted by the digital revolution, next-generation sequencing, and major investments by public and private investors in neuroscience.

Of more acute public health interest were the large number of sessions devoted to the Ebola outbreak; they focused primarily on what went wrong and why. Margaret Chan, WHO's embattled Director General, discussed some of her organization’s well-known shortcomings, as she herself was subjected to considerable criticism for timid, consensus-driven "management" when the time called for bold leadership. This was all seen as particularly timely as the Executive Committee of the World Health Assembly was to meet only a few days later. It was generally expected that those discussions, by over 30 country representatives, were unlikely to lead to meaningful recommendations for change.

Ebola was not the only public health menace to receive prime attention. A number of panels discussed the rising risk of antibiotic resistance, which Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, cited in her keynote address as the fourth biggest global threat.

Somewhat surprising to me was the enormous attention given to climate change, and its health risks, with representatives from both the public and private sectors making remarkably aggressive commitments to address its impending health risks, and their prevention. None more so than French President François Hollande, who spent more time discussing the importance of the upcoming global summit in Paris than he did the city’s recent terrorist atrocities.

Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS, is Dean Emeritus of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.