A foray into global health at #GIF15

As an individual, where does one start when considering the sustainable development goals for improving the health of the planet? Ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensure prosperity for all, are both lofty and daunting aspirations. Accordingly, the solutions to these are inherently complex. I approached the Global Ideas Forum with little experience in global health. Global health appeared to me as a nebulous, seemingly all-encompassing concept that dealt with this complexity through small-scale grassroots initiatives that failed to address broader problems, or through vague policies with little accountability to action.


The power of the Global Ideas Forum came from embracing this complexity, and I won’t deny I was sceptical at first. But as Tim France discussed, we have much of the knowledge and skills to deal with our current challenges. We just need to address the information overload. France presented his Innovative lateral search engine at the forum, called SDGinsights.org, which uses artificial intelligence technology to help us break out of our current knowledge silos and search laterally through expertise and ideas from other fields. In another solution to ordering the complexity of global health issues, Louise Schaper discussed the use of bioinformatics and big data to look for patterns to address ineffective clinical practices. The integration of bioinformatics with the huge mine of personal data gathered from intelligent wearables – such as those presented by Mackenzie Kosut from Oscar Health in the USA – is particularly exciting in its potential to address problems like non-communicable diseases.


To a functional science mind like mine, innovative tech solutions are particularly appealing. However, as Michael Sheldrick told us, it is people that change people; big data is attractive but perhaps unpersuasive. And I found myself becoming evidence for this argument over the three forum days. In particular, I was surprised to be so affected by Philip Wollen’s emotive appeal to reduce meat consumption in the name of climate health and animal rights. I have had a relatively cynical approach to the impact of individual decisions on affecting problems like these with such complexity. However, in the face of compelling evidence for the impact of our meat-eating ways, it is difficult to respond to Wollen’s argument of ‘if not you, who? If not now, when?’ For me, November has become an interesting month of reconsidering my consumerist and carnivorous habits, and exploring how individual action might be effective. Perhaps my individual actions won’t prevent climate change, but they may help to change our culture. And with changes in culture, perhaps this issue – like many others – really will be addressed.


Global Ideas Forum 2015 was a demonstration of the power of people – a weekend populated by passionate individuals from a range of fields, with a range of leadership styles all meeting on a common ground, with a common goal: to make the world a better place. Overall, I still believe that these problems are too great, too complicated for one organisation, for one individual and thus the process of solving them will be frustratingly inefficient. But we need gatherings like GIF15 to remind us of our social cohesion, to break down silos of knowledge and gather like-minded but unique individuals and allowing them to interact with one another. As Kon Karapananiotidis opined, “you can’t fail if you invest in what is right”. Whether we do this through policy, innovation, grass roots action or any other initiative, I hope that as a generation we come together to invest in what is right.

Lewis Fry, MBBS BMedSCi student