the world is seriously stressed, and digital health is a part of the solution.



Health has become a topic of concern – on an individual & global level 

This year, the World Health Summit celebrated its 10th anniversary. Its founder Detlev Ganten created it with the vision in mind to improve the health of all people on this planet, and it has stood at the forefront of some of the most critical discussions in the health sector ever since.  Its opening ceremony in Berlin on 27 October boasted many insightful and impressive speeches, highlighting the global importance of health and its necessary prioritisation. Jens Spahn, Germany’s federal Minister of Health, one of the opening ceremony’s speakers, stressed the importance of the European voice not only being heard, but also being at the forefront of innovation and development within global health. As Charité CEO Heyo Kroemer so eloquently put it, “global health has become the important topic connecting medicine, universities, the private sector, and NGOs.”

world health summit

Jens Spahn (Germany’s federal Minister of Health) at the World Health Summit 2019 in Berlin (Source: World Health Summit)

Global health requires global digitalization

Due to rapid digitalization advancements, health discussions have been increasing in both importance and frequency. It was also a key topic at the World Health Summit this year. Roberto Viola, of the European Commission DG CONNECT, summed it up perfectly: AI is about to revolutionize healthcare. But in order to get there, we have to dare to digitize more. Digital health has been, and continues to be, a key player in spreading health solutions on a global scale, and making these accessible to all. New technological innovations are increasingly blurring the boundaries between the biological, physical and digital worlds. The digital revolution holds the power to offer patient solutions and improve health on a completely new, personalized and global scale.

The goal of the WHS is to address the most health-related challenges currently faced. This year, that challenge lies in finding solutions to heal the unhealthy state of our planet’s health. At the press conference, the first and major focus was on climate change as the greatest health threat of our time. The discussions included speeches on what proactive and effective solutions we can find to make our planet healthy again. This statement may be confusing at first, but upon second glance it makes perfect sense: without a healthy earth, there cannot be healthy inhabitants (Planetary Health). The climate crisis is simultaneously the largest and most severe health crisis. Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet even came out officially to ask all health professionals to engage in non-violent social protest for climate change and its consequent harmful effects on humanity. “Fundamentally, humans care about each other. Surely there is not only great hope but also great encouragement for the health sector to work together and cooperate to solve these problems we face collectively.” An old chinese proverb puts it frankly: the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Climate change is a medical emergency; one that needs to be solved now.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently made a statement on the impact that climate change is having on human health. “It threatens the essential ingredients of good health – clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply, and safe shelter – and has the potential to undermine decades of progress in global health.” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stresses that taking steps to mitigate the impacts climate change forms one of the top priorities in global public health. 

world health summit

Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen at the World Health Summit 2019 in Berlin (Source: World Health Summit)

 “The earth belongs in the intensive care unit”

Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen is an established German physician, moderator, comedian and magician, as well as a representative for the ‘Scientists for Future’ movement- in short, a man of many talents. He was another noteworthy speaker at the World Health Summit and has dedicated his work to finding a solution as to why we, as humans and supposed most intelligent creatures on the planet, are destroying our own home. He states that “the earth belongs in the intensive care unit”. Furthermore, he is an advocate for governments to make policy surrounding the climate rooted in science and medicine. In his interview with Alverde magazine, he stresses the importance of taking action sooner rather than later- “people could do so much more for themselves and their health if they knew what is and what isn’t good for them”. This includes action and positive change surrounding the state of our climate’s health, which is ultimately reflected in our own health. As a doctor, he sees it as his duty to protect the lives of others by pointing out health hazards and potentially bad news- and the state of our climate is reflective of our own future state. “Tomorrow we must not only save the climate, we must save ourselves.” He explains that the irony that the word ‘patient’ stems from patience and suffering. And the longer we are patient with our actions to fight climate change, the worse both our and future generations’ suffering becomes. The effects of the climate crisis on our health are already apparent: heat waves have claimed several thousand victims in Germany alone, new infectious diseases are spreading, allergies are on the rise…the list is endless. It quickly becomes evident that both in the short- and long-run, actions to mitigate climate change are not only beneficial to the planet, but also to our own health.

Climate change and its consequences: eco-anxiety & more

An immediate health consequence of climate change has been on the rise recently; the term is coined ‘eco-anxiety’. This rather new psychological affliction is described as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”, and is caused by an extreme concern over the increasingly devastating effects that human development and pollution have on the planet: floods, famines, heat waves, extinctions of various species etc. A 2018 Yale University report found that 21 percent of people in the USA stated they were ‘very worried’ about global warming and its consequences. 5/10 of the top fears in the world are now related to climate change, compared to none in 2017. The phenomenon of eco-anxiety is significant enough to cause various psychotherapists to meet in London, in order to discuss how best to manage this newly emerged fear. At the conference, Sarah Nidblock of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) describes eco-anxiety as a “perfectly normal and healthy reaction”, given the current state of our planet. Furthermore, various tips and advice was also given on how to best cope with and manage eco-anxiety. The benefits of agency are particularly important, as feeling like you have the ability to make a change can proactively counter feelings of eco-anxiety.

It seems that the concern health on an individual, global and environmental level are increasingly converging. We have a duty as humans to not only help ourselves, but also each other and our planet. If we don’t, we face health consequences of various kinds: eco-anxiety, lack of resources, spread of disease and a lot of unnecessary stress that we can avoid by taking conscious, unified and immediate action. Because the last thing this world needs is more stress- trust us, we’re stressperts!


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