Global Health Histories

Lunchtime seminars series on emerging issues of global public health importance


Seminar 38: SARS: Learning from an Epidemic of Fear
Prof. George Bishop, National University of Singapore.

The 2003 outbreak of SARS, a deadly new infectious disease, sparked worldwide alarm. It caused more than 8 000 cases and almost 800 deaths in at least 25 countries. Its spread was halted only by emergency international action.
In the opening presentation of this new seminar series, health psychologist Professor George Bishop describes his studies of how ordinary people respond to illness threats. He focuses particularly on the impact of SARS in Singapore, public responses to the epidemic, and the lessons learned.
Dr Cathy Roth, a WHO expert on the disease, explains the role of WHO in leading the struggle to contain this unprecedented threat.

No Audio file available for this seminar

Seminar 39: Climate change
Dr Colin Summerhayes, Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), Cambridge, UK.

The possible links between climate change and health form one of the most controversial topics of our time. In today’s seminar, two international experts review the latest evidence. Dr Colin Summerhayes, executive director of the Scientic Committee on Antarctic Research, traces the recent history of climate change, including the impact on the polar regions. Dr Maria Neira is Director of Public Health and Environment at WHO and has great experience in a range of public health crises. She discusses WHO’s deep concerns about the potential health effects of the changes now being documented.

Seminar 41: Haemorrhagic fevers: The deepest fears
Prof. Melissa Leach, Sussex University, UK.

Haemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola, Marburg and Lassa have triggered the deepest popular fears about highly contagious and often gruesome illnesses that emerge from the forests of Africa. In recent years they have prompted rapid and sometimes draconian international policy responses and control measures. But are these necessarily the best ways to deal with such outbreaks? Professor Melissa Leach of Sussex University, England, discusses them and alternative approaches that focus on local cultural practices and insights from ecology and social science, and suggests how they might be integrated. The WHO expert view is provided by Ms Asiya Odugleh, from the Global Alert and Response department.

Seminar 42: Ageing and quality of life in older people today
Prof. Muriel Gillick, Harvard University, USA.

The rapid ageing of populations in many countries present them and the international community with daunting challenges, but also potential benefits.  How can societies help individuals to age well? The prevailing model of "successful aging" focuses on strategies to avoid disabiity and diseae in old age. While endorsing the importance of prevention, Dr Muriel Gillick, a geriatrician at Harvard Medical School, draws on decades of clinical experience and scholarly writing to argue that the contemporary paradigm neglects the needs of those who are frail, demented, or dying. She promotes a model that focuses on quality of life for all elders. Her co-speaker in this seminar is Dr John Beard, Director of the WHO Department of Ageing and Life Course, who discusses the department's approach.

Seminar 43: The 2009 pandemic influenza and worst-case scenarios
Prof. Patrick Zylberman, CNRS, France

Excessive concern with worst-case scenarios based on historical comparisons is fraught with errors, miscalculations and political over-reactions, according to this latest presentation. Nowhere among infectious diseases threats has this been more apparent than in influenza pandemics, with constant reminders of the worst of these, in 1918. But in the management of the 2009 pandemic, such analogies have been particularly misleading, says Professor Patrick Zylberman, chair of history of health, Ecole des hautes études en santé publique (Rennes and Paris). The seminar will look at pandemics from different angles in order to address the following questions: How can historical perspective helps to better prepare for and respond to current global public health threats? What are the differences and similarities between past pandemic and the H1N1 2009 pandemic? How the assessment of past pandemics can inform the current assessment of this 2009 pandemic ? His co speaker in this seminar is Dr Sylvie Briand, head of the Global Influenza Programme.

No Audio file available for this seminar

Seminar 44: Diabetes: A disease of modern technology?
Prof. Chris Feudtner, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, USA.

Diabetes mellitus is a world-wide devastating chronic health condition, estimated to cause a death every 10 seconds. Diabetes mellitus Type 2 (which accounts for up to 90% of all diabetes cases) is often described as a “disease of civilization”, as it was seen during the 20th century to become more prevalent in societies with “advancing” life-styles.
A more trenchant view positions Type 2 diabetes as a disease of technology, large and small, that has altered the human energy balance, been responded to with drugs and devices, and generated new markets in health and disease. Dr Chris Feudtner, a pediatrician, historian, and ethicist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, argues that efforts to control diabetes, if they are to be effective, must understand and address the entire disease system. His co-speaker at this seminar is Dr Gojka Roglic, Medical Officer, Department of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion.

No Audio file available for this seminar

Seminar 40: Mental health and WHO
Prof. David Wright, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada.

Mental disorders are among the most significant global burdens of disease today. However, public health initiatives to combat them and promote mental health are relatively recent. Dr David Wright, Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine at McMaster University, traces the history of such approaches over the last 200 years, from the origins of the public ‘Lunatic Asylum’ to today’s Global Mental Health initiatives.

He looks in particular at the role of Canadian psychiatrist Brock Chisholm, WHO’s first Director-General, in international actions to estimate and combat mental illness. His co-speaker is Dr Shekar Saxema, Director of WHO’s Mental Health Department in Geneva.

No Audio file available for this seminar

Seminar 45: Tobacco control: from a national to an international issue
Prof. Virginia Berridge, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK.

Virginia Berridge examines the development of smoking from a national to an international issue since the 1950s. Using the UK as the model, she dissects the significance which smoking had for the reorientation of social medicine and public health in the 1950s. She also looks at developments leading to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

She examines changing policy initiatives-from harm reduction to the arrival of passive smoking and addiction as scientific and policy concepts. She then examines the widening of the national compass and how this manifested itself through new networks and alliances, as well as in the role of individuals. These changes had their origin in the 1970s and gathered pace in the next two decades, leading to the particular circumstances surrounding the Framework Convention. The second speaker at this seminar, Vijay Trivedi, policy adviser to the Framework Convention secretariat, responds.

No Audio file available for this seminar

Seminar 46: Obesity and Public Health
Prof. Tom Baldwin, University of York, UK.

This seminar deals with key questions on obesity:

What is it, and why is it an issue for public health?

Why have obesity levels risen sharply in the UK and other countries since about 1980?

What can and should be done to reduce those levels?

Seminar 47: Plague
Dr Kavita Sivaramakrishnan, Columbia University, New York, USA.

Plague is one of the oldest - and most feared - of all diseases. In this seminar, Kavita Sivaramakrishnan examines plague in the context of the global politics of re-emerging infectious diseases. She uses the plague epidemic in Surat, India in 1994 to pose some searching questions:
- What have been the key issues at the time of an outbreak?
- What have been the priorities and roles of key international, national and local level actors?
- How have historical, ideological and other factors such influenced effective responses during a plague outbreak?
Her co-speaker, Dr Eric Bertherat, responds and gives a global plague update.