How science diplomacy can make a difference in global health

Prior to the adoption of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003, the World Health Organization had worked for many years to prevent the harm caused by tobacco consumption with the aim of adopting an international agreement on the tobacco regulation. The deal, however, was not moving forward.

“The real breakthrough came when scientific evidence emerged showing the negative consequences of passive smoking and its impact on children,” Ilona Kickbusch, founding director of the Global Health Center at the University Institute of Geneva, told host. Garry Aslanian in the new episode of the “Global Health Matters” podcast. “That data and that evidence really made a significant difference in getting the negotiations started.”

Thanks to this development, the convention was finally adopted, becoming the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO. Today, the agreement comprises 182 parties, covering more than 90% of the world’s population.

According to Kickbusch, the convention embodies an important example of how science and diplomacy can complement each other to achieve a goal or drive change. The expert discusses the role of science diplomacy in global health with Aslanyan and Aída Mencía Ripley, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Universidad Iberoamericana in the Dominican Republic.

Ripley explains how, in the Dominican Republic, science diplomacy has been essential in overcoming the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were able to use science diplomacy to build bridges and provide some of the first COVID sequencing data for our country,” she recalls. “We were actually one of the first countries in the region to be able to do that, thanks to some of these international collaborations.”

Kickbusch also notes that the pandemic has made it clear how many global health issues are also subject to ideology, making hard evidence crucial.

“Being able to come together and build global consensus also means we have to overcome ideology and we have to have very, very good data,” she says. “We note that over the years, particularly on issues related to sexual health in the broadest sense of the term, many international agreements, such as those guaranteeing access to medicines for stigmatized groups, have not been possible that because we had hard science.”

Another important element in reaching consensus is the promotion of trust in governments and institutions, according to the two experts.

“We’re in a situation where trust in science and in policy-making is not as strong as it was ten or twenty years ago,” says Kickbusch. “We really have to work on that trust. We need to work on health literacy. We must work on the scientific culture, both of the population in general and of political decision-makers and diplomats. »

Ripley points out that to tackle global health issues, it is essential to consider not only hard science but also the context of each society.

“Global health is completely over-medicalized at this point,” she points out. “I think some of the nuances that social and behavioral sciences bring to the table are crucial because we need to be able to understand people’s socio-economic and political contexts to make sure we meet people halfway, especially when we ask them to make major lifestyle changes, like we did during the pandemic.

Listen to previous episodes of Global Health Matters on Health Policy Watch.

Image credits: TDR.

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