11 November 2022 | Science conversation
Vismita Gupta-Smith2023 will mark the 75th year of WHO. While the world has achieved many public healthmilestones in these 75 years, in Science in 5 today we will take a look into the future. What arethe innovations we can expect and what will be our biggest challenges? Hello and welcome toScience in 5. I am Vismita Gupta-Smith. We are talking to Dr. Soumya Swaminathan. Welcome,Soumya. Soumya, paint us a picture of what health for all will look like in the future.
Dr. Soumya SwaminathanSo when I look 20, 25 years into the future Vismita, and I imagine a family living in a rural areain a village anywhere in the world, what I see is that this family has a proper house to live in,that the problem of air pollution has been handled so that people are breathing clean air, thatthe family uses renewable or clean sources of energy so that there's no more need to use solidfuel for their heating and cooking needs, that they have running water, safe water, as well asimproved sanitation facilities that would have reduced the risks of infectious diseases. I imagine a community health worker living in that village or nearby who would know everyfamily in the village and who would have the tools to deal with the common health problems thatfamilies face from children to the elderly. And it's not just about diagnosing and treating commondiseases, but with much more of a focus on health promotion and preventive health care. So, forexample, I imagine that people of all ages would receive vaccines, not just children; that therewould be a regular screening program for things like high blood pressure, diabetes, as well ascommon cancers; that there would be attention to rehabilitation so that people who have had astroke or have some kind of disabilities or people, in fact, who have aging related disorders likedementia actually have a place in the community where they can go, where they can getphysiotherapy and rehabilitation, but also be able to spend quality time with other seniorcitizens.Preschool and a creche, again, would be in every village so that every newborn child with aworking mother would have access to a facility where they get both physical care, but alsocognitive stimulation and good nutrition. So I'm really imagining in the future that we have amuch more holistic view towards a healthy life and well-being.
Vismita Gupta-SmithSoumya what are the innovations we can expect which will help us achieve this goal of healthfor all?
Dr. Soumya SwaminathanSo clearly that there will be many innovations, including ones that we cannot imagine just now.But I think of the existing technologies, I could say that a couple of them would play increasinglyimportant roles. One of them is genomics, because we are getting a much better understandingnow of the role of genomic technologies in prevention, but also in treatment of diseases andalso in the area of pathogen surveillance so that we keep track of the bugs in our environmentand are aware of the ones that may cause disease in the future.But also, we will have technologies like gene editing and the CRISPR Cas9 technologies thatwill make it more easy to do treatment of genetic diseases like sickle cell anaemia, for example.And I also see digital technologies expanding with more people having access to these tools,including healthcare workers. This will enable the latest information to reach people so that theycan take better care of their health. But I can also see artificial intelligence algorithms helpingdoctors and health care workers in making diagnoses. I also imagine that we will have morevaccines, even for non-communicable diseases. Cancer vaccines, for example.
Vismita Gupta-SmithSoumya, speak to us about the challenges. What would be our biggest challenges goingforward?
Dr. Soumya SwaminathanI think some of the bigger challenges are going to be in the areas of equity and ethics. Equity,because we've seen in the recent past that new technologies take a very long time to reachpeople in low income countries. And the world has to do better at providing equitable access tohealth products, which are essentially life saving products. Secondly, I think the area of ethicsand the use of new scientific technologies, which are quite often a double edged sword, willbecome more important.And I hope that more debates in countries and the setting up of national bioethics committeeswill help to resolve this because Science will offer a lot of possibilities and new tools, but thesehave to be used wisely. And finally, I think that the whole area of misinformation, disinformation,mistrust in science needs to be handled. And I think the best way of doing that is by buildingscientific literacy, starting from schoolchildren.
Vismita Gupta-SmithThank you. Soumya, that was Science in 5 today. Until next time then, stay safe, stay healthyand stick with science.