During recent decades significant progress has been made to focus policy attention and channel new financial resources towards global health issues. Despite this, the challenges facing our global community are becoming increasingly complex and inter-connected. This was emphasised by Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, during her opening speech to the 132th Executive board members:
“The challenges facing public health are big and increasingly universal. […] The climate is changing. Antibiotics are failing. The world population keeps getting bigger, and older. The rise of chronic non communicable diseases is relentless. The microbial world continues to deliver surprises. Public expectations for health care are rising. Budgets are shrinking. Costs are soaring at a time of nearly universal austerity. Social inequalities are at the worst levels seen in half a century. Conflicts are rife. The health consequences, also for civilians, are severe. The will to relieve human misery is strong but gets blunted by too few resources, too little capacity, and too much uncoordinated aid”.
The context of this uncertain global environment is the intense backdrop for current discussions on how to position health in the post-2015 development agenda. The 2014 Geneva Health Forum (GHF) will not shy away from this difficult and challenging context.
The complexity of today's global health challenges requires harnessing the skills and energies of many sectors and disciplines in order to develop innovative and effective solutions. Never has it been so urgent to further align interests and efforts in order to maintain gains and tackle the global health and development challenges ahead. As the world moves towards the edges of its planetary boundaries, achieving sustainable development and improving global health require actions on a much broader and systemic front. In this context health is a pre-condition and an outcome of all three dimensions of sustainable development – the economic, social, and environmental.
It’s time for health to incorporate the big picture of our contemporary challenges, therefore the overarching topic for the 2014 edition of the Geneva Health Forum will be ‘Integration’.
Integration has different meanings. In its basic sense, integration is the process that brings together different parts into one single component. In pedagogy integration refers to an educational approach that helps learners solve complex problems by mobilizing resources and uniting separate elements connected to the issue at hand. In economics, integration is the consolidation of activities under a common authority. Integration can achieve a given goal by aligning interests, resources and actions more comprehensively, effectively and more efficiently.
In the field of global health, the concept of integration is not new and can be traced back to the WHO’s 1978 International Conference on Primary Health Care where the famous declaration of Alma Ata proclaimed that: “the attainment of the highest possible level of health is a most important world-wide social goal whose realization requires the action of many other social and economic sectors in addition to the health sector.” The Primary Health Care approach is an integrative approach that combines actions in order to promote the establishment of comprehensive national health systems capable of offering a wide range of promotional, preventive, curative and rehabilitative services. At the same time it mobilizes other sectors in order to achieve health for all and reduce social disparities.
While the broad-based development and strengthening of the health systems approach advocated by the WHO’s Health for All initiative has been viewed as too idealistic and unrealistic to implement, the issue of integration is once again topical. This is largely due to the rise of several large disease-specific global health initiatives (GHIs), the increasing burden posed by non-communicable diseases and recognition that the health Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be met without improving health systems.
Beyond the polarized debates of the past decade, the GHF team invites you to revisit the concept of integration in its various dimensions and framings. We would like to promote global health as a field of study and practice that offers an integrative approach which better captures the underlying causes of ill-health and recognises the commonalities that underlie people’s health around the world.
The following section further elaborates on the various meaning/dimensions of integration describing how the concept can be approached and dissected. 13 variations of the concept matching the GHF tracks will be proposed. GHF tracks are broad thematic categories intended to clarify the content generated by the GHF over the years. Each track represents an important global health subfield and taken together these tracks constitute the backbone of the GHF content. The primary purpose of these tracks is to help our constituencies find their place in the GHF.
To facilitate abstract submission, a description of each track with specific reference to the concept of integration and a set of questions that prompt critical reflection is available here. We encourage GHF participants to submit their practical experiences with integration related projects, programme and policies. We wish to revisit this concept in varied settings in order to highlight the conditions under which integration can be a feasible and appropriate way to improve global health.
Submissions for the 2014 Forum are now closed.