Tackling Global Health Problems

“When I look at the tremendous success we’ve had in HIV/AIDS, which was a very complicated problem that affected the entire world, rich and poor, I feel energized about our ability to also solve some food system problems,” says Martin Bloem, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. He mentions that the solutions require collaboration across all sectors, public and private.

“We’ll need to think long-term,” says Bloem, “but we must also act urgently.”

Recently I got to have that conversation with Dr. Bloem for an article in Public Health magazine, about the daunting twin challenges of addressing climate change and the global health problems around nutrition. While those two would have been enough, we have since seen another fast-flowing international health crisis, the novel coronavirus, consume everyone’s attention.

Illustration of two bar graphs - one labeled Climate, the other Diet - shows one as a shadow of the first, with silhouette figures studying them.

Another article by John Schwartz in the New York Times suggests that they’re related – in the sense that an opportunity to control the virus also poses opportunities in behavior that can improve our response to climate change. By reducing our carbon-based travel, by being more mindful in our food shopping, and considering more our meals together, we can make changes that help in our long-term climate challenge.

This is the kind of synergy and interlocking change that Bloem is talking about when he says, “Everything is interdependent!” He describes the local innovations spurred by an open-ended call like the movement Meatless Monday, and explains its potential to change eating patterns in the U.S. The excitement is clear in his voice. Then he pauses and adds with some sympathy for a reporter, “I know it’s not easy to write a story about this.”

In uncertain times, we can draw some courage from episodes in the past where people have managed to face risks and change their behavior. Granted, there were so many lags and cold political denial in addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis that it can be hard to consider it a model, but Bloem has a point. The case of international collaboration that reduced the Ozone hole in the 1980s offers another example of effective action just in time. Read the full article in Public Health here.

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