With today’s release of After 2015: infectious diseases in a new era of health and development, I consider the international policy context that’s prompted this discussion, and what the future of global health says about the future of science in development.
Interview with Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B guest editors Chris Dye and Anne O’Garra
As Chris Dye explains in the video above, this collection of scientific papers has been catalysed by international policy. More specifically, by the development of a set of goals (likely to be called the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs) to replace the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs) when they expire in 2015.
The SDGs, when they come into being, will steer the direction of global health research and practice – alongside other major components of sustainable development – for the foreseeable future. So what might the future of global health look like?
Well, for one, our future understanding of ‘health’ is likely to be more holistic than at present; increasingly considering the interactions between multiple infections, rather than viewing them in isolation. Furthermore, the rise to prominence of non-communicable diseases (eg. cancer, cardiovascular disease and mental health problems) will galvanise the study of how these interact with communicable diseases (eg. how infections can cause cancer). At both scientific and institutional levels, the communicable/non-communicable dichotomy will be gradually eroded, with ramifications for future research and treatment.
While hugely important in its own right, the future of global health also exemplifies a broader agenda: the role of science in the next development framework.
As Chris Dye explains:
“As we make that transition [from the MDGs to the SDGs], the role of science in influencing that discussion is absolutely crucial… As the politics takes place at the highest levels in the United Nations and so forth, what we need is a strong scientific underpinning to the debate.”
Here in the Science Policy Centre, we’ve been following the to-ings and fro-ings of the international debate on the next set of development goals. And, as we’ve previously argued (and convened others to discuss), it’s clear that science has a huge amount to contribute.
And yet this contribution’s by no means a given. Based on the development of the MDGs and the subsequent negotiations surrounding the Rio+20 conference, it’s obvious that the most appropriate evidence doesn’t always reach those making policy decisions.
Looking to the future, then, the scientific community will hopefully play a much stronger role in helping to shape scientifically robust development goals, along with their associated targets, indicators and review mechanisms. This will need to be done through everything from developing new technologies and improving the science-policy interface, to making data accessible and fostering international research collaboration.
Today’s publication demonstrates a powerful scientific response to international policy. Let’s hope the opposite rings true when the SDGs roll out next year.