World Economic Forum in Davos highlights global health issues
My last trip to Davos, Switzerland this month for the World Economic Forum was a reminder that healthcare is truly global. We need to work together to solve the most annoying problems, especially system failures that lead to a reduction in life expectancy depending on the color of your skin or where you live.
I have been privileged to be a part of this global incubator, which has attracted leaders from the private and public sectors and included a special virtual address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a portrait of courage against the backdrop of an approaching year of war in Russia. The theme at Davos was “Collaboration in a Fragmented World”. This is a great way to articulate strategies that leaders must adopt to bring about sustainable change that will improve life around the world.
As the CEO of New Jersey’s largest healthcare network, I’m pleased to see health equity becoming an increasingly important global priority. Globally, there is a 14-year difference in life expectancy at birth between high- and low-income countries, according to the World Bank. At the most extreme, Japan and the Central African Republic have a life expectancy difference of more than 30 years. In the US, we are all too familiar with these gaps. On average, black Americans live 3.5 years less than white Americans.
That’s why I, along with 39 other leaders from eight countries, signed the Closing the Health Gap Pledge, the world’s first cross-sectoral commitment to health equity. It is a commitment to ensure that people in all communities have access to high quality health care. By solving non-medical issues as well, we can preserve people’s health. For example, at Hackensack Meridian Health, we launched a program 18 months ago that uses two separate digital platforms and electronic health records to screen patients for food and housing insecurity, transportation problems, mental health and addiction issues, and exercising stress. care. All screening information is fed directly into the patient’s EHR. So far, we have referred 1.7 million people to community services for over 585,000 patients.
There is also no doubt that world leaders in government and the private sector must commit themselves to combating climate change, which has a significant impact on health. The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, an additional 250,000 people will die annually from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.
The healthcare industry, dedicated to treating people, can play an important role in the fight against climate change. Let’s start with a paradox: US hospital emergency departments report 1.3 million visits annually for asthma, yet the healthcare industry is one of the biggest drivers of climate change. Industry produces about 8.5 percent of the country’s total annual carbon emissions. This includes hospitals, healthcare systems, pharmaceutical companies, doctors’ offices, and others.
Hackensack Meridian, a system of 18 hospitals, is pursuing several strategies to build more energy efficient campuses, including partnering with New Jersey utilities through the Hospital Efficiency Program, which has resulted in over $113 million in investment. Outdated systems have been replaced by energy-efficient cooling and heating systems, air handling units and other large equipment. Efforts launched in 2011 have reduced energy consumption by an average of 30 percent. Our network has also committed to achieving zero emissions by 2050.
I am also encouraged that world leaders are increasingly realizing that we must treat mental health and addiction the same way we treat diabetes, heart disease, and cancer—as chronic diseases that deserve a full spectrum of treatment, carefully coordinated treatments, and new treatment methods. There are human and economic reasons for this, and we can make great strides by addressing this as a workplace problem.
I have been privileged to work in a panel with some of the world’s leading experts to review best practices ranging from flexible working hours and peer support to mindfulness training. If people spend a third of their adult lives in the workplace, why not help them address behavioral health issues while at work? In the United States alone, one in four people struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. According to the WHO, depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion annually, largely due to lost productivity. Employees overwhelmingly respond positively when their companies address these issues. And these programs pay off well. For every dollar invested in addressing common mental health issues, employers receive a return of about $4 in improved health and productivity.
Connecting with leaders around the world provides invaluable insights that help healthcare decision makers fulfill their mission to transform healthcare and drive positive change. The trip to Davos continues to inspire, invigorate and build new connections so that together we can make people in all corners of the globe healthier and happier. And U.S. health leaders must also continue to build new relationships and partnerships here at home to make communities healthier in this fragmented world.