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Urgent action needed on global health challenges
August 16, 2015, 11:29 am
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"I personally do not think the world has done enough in the area of health promotion and protection": Dr. Kazem Behbehani

In a recent exclusive interview, the Director-General of Kuwait’s Dasman Diabetes Institute and former Assistant Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Kazem Behbehani, expressed his growing concern that "the world is not doing enough to address the challenges of health and development."

Dr. Behbehani, who was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen of England in 2014, and was appointed to the Board of Regents of Manchester Harris College Oxford and is the Senior Policy Adviser to the International Center for Migration, Health and Development (ICMHD) WHO Collaborating Centre in Geneva, said, "Today, when the gap between rich and poor countries is growing and when climate scientists tell us that we are on the verge of major changes in climatic conditions, it is very important that we should think globally."

"If we do not do more and act with a sense of urgency I believe the world will pay a high price for its inaction. If you look at what is happening around us in terms of emerging and remerging diseases I am sure you will agree that we must increase our commitment to global health and do so quickly and with greater focus," he added.

What do you mean when you say ‘global health’ and why is it important to people in Kuwait?

"Global Health is a recognition that the world is really a small place and becoming smaller. Today there are more than seven billion people sharing the same space that, at one time, housed a few hundred million.

“We are consuming more food than ever and we are consuming water at a massive and still growing rate. The ecological balance is being challenged and we must think seriously about how to create and maintain a better equilibrium that ensures that everyone will have access to both food and water. Unless we do, there will be political and social unrest.

“At the same time we can travel around the world today in a matter of hours, and as we do, we have become the main vectors of disease. When there is an outbreak in one part of the world it is, theoretically, a matter of hours before that outbreak is felt in countries that may be thousands of miles away and have an entirely different ecological and social character. 

“What I am saying is that if we are to prevent global health disasters, we must be prepared to invest in the health of poor countries and less well-off communities that do not have the infrastructure or the know-how needed to protect health."

Disagreeing altogether with underestimating Kuwait' capabilities in reference to its small size, he made an affirming point: "Of course we are small in territorial size and we are obviously small in terms of population, but we are not small from the perspective of talent and financial capacity. Be careful not to confuse size with knowledge or size with commitment.

“Kuwait has good scientists, medical doctors and healthcare staff. There is no field in which we are not represented at the global level. In geology and engineering, in nuclear energy and marine biology, as well as in health, we are present in many international agencies."

Looking objectively at the situation, he commented, "You will realize that Kuwait is well placed to do a great deal at the international health level. The Kuwait Fund for Development is already a leader in many domains, and I think we can also do much more in the specific field of global health, especially diabetes. There are over 345 million people living with diabetes of one kind or another around the world. We can begin by sharing our experience in this area and creating networks of countries all working on the same issues." 

With respect to diabetes collaboration, Dr. Behbehani believes that Kuwait can help create a global awareness about the problem and begin to teach people about the factors that affect diabetes and which make it such a big problem. “We can work with countries to help them catch up on new public health prevention knowledge and cutting-edge clinical and skills in diabetes treatment and care. We can organize training courses for people from other countries and we can help improve clinical skills and techniques."

He also believes that Kuwait is now ready to take up its role in the global fight against diabetes, working with key countries that can benefit from Kuwait’s help and collaboration.

"Think about what we are doing in Kuwait under the leadership of H.H. The Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah and H.H. The Crown Prince, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, and think how we could share that same impetus with countries that do not have the same creative advantages and leadership," he added.

Citing his colleague, Dr. Manuel Carballo, who had stated that the world was now entering a new era of co-morbidities that have a capacity to catch countries unprepared and place heavy burdens on them, Dr. Behbehani gave a more optimistic outlook, "The Dasman Diabetes Institute is in a unique position to identify new themes and develop them together with other basic research, public health groups. We are already doing this with Harvard in the USA and Oxford, Glasgow Caledonian and ICMHD, which is a WHO Collaborating Centre, in Europe." 

Adding that he would like to see the Dasman Diabetes Institute and other health groups in Kuwait, "to begin to work with countries that can benefit from our way of approaching public health and bring our experience and knowledge to bear on their needs."

"I would like to see Kuwait create a global health capacity that other countries would feel free to turn to for assistance. We are already discussing things like this with Malaysia and Indonesia and I know that countries such as the Maldives, Bosnia, and Jamaica would also welcome our input in terms of technical assistance and financial support in the area of diabetes. There are many other countries that we can help and in doing so we can become a key part of the new global health agenda," he said in conclusion.

 

Read Dr. Kazem Behbehani's previous interview on Dasman Diabetes Institute

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Ademola Bukky  Posted on : January 02, 2016 11:15 am
I believe the D.D.l(Dasman Diabetic Institute) is doing a great job in combating the problems arising from Diabetes and the associated complications.
Excellent write up from Dr.Behbehani , each region of the world should wake up to tackle the health challenges facing the world.
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