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As the world recovers from the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 infectious disease, it’s a fitting opportunity to consider how global megatrends impact the world.
Originating in Wuhan, China in late 2019, the COVID-19 virus and disease was classified as a pandemic on March 11, 2020 as it spread to countries around the world.
Global efforts took shape as health agencies took measures to contain the outbreak by encouraging social distancing, limiting human to human contact, and closing down economies.
With the world adopting a renewed focus on innovations to public health systems, preparedness, and response techniques, it’s a good time to consider how public health fits in as a global megatrend.
So far in our series on megatrends, we’ve considered how global population increases and migration patterns affect the environment, industries, and consumer behaviour.
In this post, we’ll consider how pandemics such as COVID-19, as well as other public health impacts, yield substantial opportunities for business communities and innovation cycles.
Pandemics in modern society
A globalised society on Earth enjoys being able to travel to and from many regions that were once inaccessible. However, the increased mobility, both personal and business-related, also exposes Earth’s population to higher chances of disease transfer.
COVID-19, if nothing else, is an example of the fragility of public health systems to respond to rapidly spreading infections.
In a 2011 report, the World Health Organization warned that the world is “ill-prepared for a severe pandemic or for any similarly global, sustained and threatening public health emergency.” Fast-forward almost a decade and the world is feeling the full effects of a global pandemic and renewing focus on improving methods containment and prevention.
There are other global health issues than those caused by pandemics.
Many industries around the world benefit from rapid advancements in technology. Agriculture industries benefit from cutting-edge pesticides while forestry sectors operate machines that were once thought impossible.
Increases to waste and emissions can cause environmental health issues such as those that impact air and water quality.
In addition, the effects of new chemicals such as pesticides with little-studied byproducts are still largely unknown. Some of the effects of exposure, especially when different industrial byproducts are combined, may not be observable or possible to understand for generations.
Urbanisation and public health
In the last post, we looked at how global migration trends fuel urban expansion. If you missed it, check it out here [link]. As previously-remote communities move to cities in search of jobs and to increase their livelihoods, so too do cities grow. With bigger cities at the core of modern industrial expansion, bigger cities also mean more air pollution.
Estimates project that urban air pollution is set to become the main environmental cause of premature mortality by 2050.
The most vulnerable populations are the elderly and the poor, which may only further impact public health resources.
Public health in developing nations
The security of international health faces a huge threat in communicable diseases. Their impacts are felt most heavily in developing regions of the world.
For example, as the world has responded in time to HIV/AIDS, better access to therapy has shown decreases in AIDS-related deaths. However, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS, due to available treatments, is increasing. That puts a significant change to public health systems and is an important consideration for policymakers and social program designers to consider.
Additionally, there are contagious diseases that continue to spread in developing nations despite powerful vaccines have been available for over 50 years. It may shock many people who live comfortably in developed countries that contagious diseases such as measles persist in countries that are less well off. In some countries, measles is still one of the leading causes of death among young children.
Public health in developed nations
Advanced economic growth has helped to reduce poverty in developed nations. Despite positive benefits like advancements in medical technologies, unhealthy lifestyles have developed.
It’s not just communicable diseases that are damaging to public health. Medical conditions such as cancers, diabetes, obesity, and mental disorders persist in developed nations, and, increasingly in the rapidly growing middle class of the developing world.
Implications for innovation
European nations enjoy unprecedented improvements to public health systems. However, COVID-19 in 2020 demonstrates just how fragile public health systems really are. Future policies and innovations will require additional public health interventions. Higher levels of environmental control may further be required to mitigate the spread of transferable viruses and disease.
There is huge potential for innovation in new antibiotic and drug treatments that feature narrow focuses. Commonly, antibiotic drugs are designed to cover a broad spectrum of ailments but antibiotics also hamper immune systems, risking greater exposure to viral contaminations. Reducing the over-reliance of antibiotics, coupled with better investments in other drug treatments, can help improve public health around the world.
Greater effort can be given to reducing “lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases.” These include tobacco-related ailments, obesity or cardiovascular diseases. Advancements in habit-forming services and technological aids may help reduce these lifestyle-related public health concerns. More can be done with awareness and aid to get people more active and curb the negative effects of alcohol or tobacco consumption.
As populations migrate to urban settlements, innovations targeted in those areas may have a substantial impact. Unique services and advancements are further required to assist public health scenarios for those living in rural areas.
Innovations and new technologies can help shape the way that the public can access health services. By improving access, we can improve the distribution of health and social safety nets, making the world as a whole a safer place to live.
For more on our global megatrends series, check out our other posts here [link to first post]. Or, read on to discover how trends in technology are shaping the world around you.