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Strong leadership needed for global health challenges, experts say



Countries will need innovative, fair and inclusive leadership to navigate future global health challenges, a roundtable discussion has revealed.

The Centre for Health Economics and Policy Innovation event at Imperial College London‘s business school brought together experts from academia, public health organisations and politics.

Introducing the roundtable, Professor Ian Walmsley, Provost of Imperial College London highlighted the importance of joining forces to look at complex international health challenges.

“Addressing these issues is going to be a pre-requisite for a sustainable, resilient and just world,” he said.

“We can’t afford to work in silos but need to adopt bigger thinking if we want to address the sustainable development targets that are needed to achieve the inclusive and equitable leadership that are essential to moving us forward.

“As a globally facing institution, Imperial adopts this at the core and we stand ready to play our part in meeting these goals.”

The discussion touched on current global health challenges ranging from improving preparedness for pandemics to stepping up the fight against non-communicable diseases.

It also looked at increasing the sustainability of health systems and the links between health, poverty and the wider economy.

During the event, the panel also discussed the complex challenges of decolonising global health and ensuring equal and just representation in leadership roles.

Describing what qualities make a good leader, Dr Sania Nishtar, member of the senate of Pakistan, said: “Humility and good interpersonal skills are really important attributes of a strong leader.”

She also stressed the importance of being able to lead teams, deal with pressure and solve complex problems.

Dr Nishtar described her proudest moment as successfully leading the emergency effort to make relief payments to Pakistan’s most vulnerable households, during the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.

Dr Ebere Okereke, CEO of the Africa Public Health Foundation, added that a strong leader should “not be afraid to change their mind when the evidence indicates that they should”.

“It’s important to own your decisions and the changes you’re making,” she later added.

Dr Okereke talked about her experience of mentoring Black women working in health and the issues facing women in the health and leadership space.

Professor Franco Sassi, director of the Centre for Health Economics and Policy Innovation, said: “For a long time we have focused on the governance architecture in global health, neglecting leadership skills.

“What global health leaders need today is a new vision and understanding of the interconnectedness between health, the economy and other major societal challenges like climate change.”

Other speakers included Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, and Afifah Ismat Rahman-Shepherd of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

The roundtable was co-organised with the George Institute for Global Health UK and the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

It enabled a meeting of the NUS-Lancet’s Pandemic Readiness, Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Commission.

The commission, co-led by Professor Helena Legido-Quigley, chair in health systems science, set out goals for their report, which is expected to be published in The Lancet medical journal in 2025.

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