Global Health Histories

Lunchtime seminars series 2012

Seminar 60: The marketing of breast-milk substitutes

The World Health Assembly’s adoption of the International Code in 1981 was a milestone achievement in global efforts to improve breast-feeding. The Code advocates for babies to be breastfed, while prohibiting companies from promoting or freely distributing breast-milk substitutes. Dr Sami Shubber is an expert on the Code, took part in its drafting, and was responsible for all related legal matters during his time at WHO. Based on his important book on the subject, Dr Shubber provides a historical account of the Code’s life span, from first conception through to eventual adoption. Dr Francesco Branca from the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development discusses WHO’s current initiatives to improve infant feeding practices.

Seminar 61: Chlamydia: tracking the emergence of a "new" infection - 14 March

Chlamydia is a 'new' infection. Its incidence has only been reported in the last twenty years or so. But where was it previously? Dr Michael Worboys, Director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester, UK, explores this question by looking at the pre-history of the disease, from the emergence of non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) in the 1950s, to its “repackaging” as a number of distinct infections, including Chlamydia, from the 1970s onward. Dr Nathalie Broutet, Medical Officer with the Department of Control of Sexually Transmitted and Reproductive Tract Infections, describes WHO’s current initiatives to control sexually transmitted infections, including Chlamydia.

Seminar 62: Patient safety - 4 April

Patient safety has moved from being a relatively unrecognised concept in the early 1990s to a priority for many health care systems around the world in the 21st century. Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, Chancellor, Newcastle University, Chairman of the National Patient Safety Agency (UK) and WHO Envoy for Patient Safety, describes the challenges over the past decade of convincing governments and clinical leaders to improve the safety of health care and increase awareness and commitment to this important subject in an international context. Dr Edward Kelley Coordinator, WHO Patient Safety Programme, provides the WHO perspective on patient safety as a global public health issue and the challenges facing WHO’s Patient Safety Programme looking forward.

Seminar 63: Public-private partnerships in health - 9 May

Public-private partnerships can be effective in leveraging the relative strengths of both sectors to address problems that neither one could tackle adequately on its own. Focusing on India, Dr A. Venkat Raman, Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi, traces the emergence of such partnerships and examines how the private sector is increasingly tapped to deliver health care services to poor and under-served sections of society. Dr Hongwen Zhao, WHO Department of Health Policy, Development and Services, describes the concept of “unregulated commercialization” in relation to public-private partnerships and the work of WHO.

Seminar 64: Financial incentives in health - 13 June

Financial incentives in health have become increasingly popular, with payments aimed at influencing the behavior of both patients and providers. Using the example of paying for quality improvement in the United Kingdom, Professor Maria Goddard explains that the design of the payment mechanism is key. Rather than being a purely technical issue, it can greatly impact the nature of the incentives created, and the degree to which desired outcomes are likely to be achieved. Mr Joe Kutzin from the Department of Health Systems Financing provides the WHO perspective.

Seminar 65: Public Health Innovations - 11 July

The phrase ‘public health in reverse’ was first used in 1949 to describe biological warfare, and it captures the dual-use dilemma of beneficial new research being co-opted for harmful purposes. Dr Balmer’s talk reports on a historical case study of dual-use and the development of chemical warfare. Dr Mirza’s presentation, “The road to medical innovation & access: from a rear-view mirror” provides a historical perspective on intellectual property, innovations in medical technology, and public health.

Seminar 66: Yellow Fever - An Unfinished History - 3 October

Yellow fever was one of the biggest public health challenges in the Americas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Dr Jaime Benchimol charts the history of the disease in Brazil, covering the speculation on modes of transmission in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the identification of the disease’s viral etiology in 1928-1929, and later, the discovery of urban and sylvatic cycles of disease transmission. While the virus still circulates in rural woodlands, there have been no recent urban outbreaks in Brazil. Instead, it has been replaced by dengue, which is transmitted by the same mosquito vector. Why has yellow fever not continued to spread in urban environments teeming with the same mosquitoes that played host to the virus in the past? Dr Benchimol explores some hypotheses in response to this question.

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