The third Asia Summit of Global Health was held on 17-18 May 2023. What are some recent developments in the healthcare space and how can we build a resilient and sustainable global health system? Here, we cover some of the highlights from the summit.
by Carmen Chan
On May 5, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 no longer a global health emergency. COVID-19 cases and deaths are at the lowest they have been in three years, and while the disease continues to spread, we now have the right tools in place to ensure that future waves of the disease do not result in significant fatalities. COVID-19 has shown the world the importance of global health cooperation.
At the Asia Summit of Global Health, organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and held on May 17-18, we reimagine the future of healthcare. Hong Kong is the largest hub for funding biotech companies, bringing in over two dozen research labs from various world-class economies, and has been supporting universities in its research and development efforts. In a series of talks, discussions and dialogues, we hear from several stakeholders, both public and private, as they discuss recent developments in the healthcare space as well as how we can build a resilient and sustainable global health system.
Reimagining the Future of Healthcare
As developed countries increasingly face the challenges that come with an ageing population, we see an increase in patients with chronic diseases, an increase in healthcare expenditure, and healthcare systems crumbling under their own weight.
So as we reimagine the future of healthcare, we ask ourselves, what sort of possibilities can be unlocked with artificial intelligence, data science, genetic technology, and robotics? And how do we get from here to there?
In a plenary talk by Dr Gerald Chan, Co-founder of Morningside Group, discussing the future of healthcare as enabled by technology and artificial intelligence, he shared with us some examples of how technology and AI can be utilised to improve healthcare for both patients and healthcare providers. Some of these examples include using a chatbot to deliver primary care, using AI to render autism diagnoses in children, using digital biomarkers to determine a patient’s cognitive state, and using AI to deliver mental health therapy. “The future of medicine is one guided by data and AI to augment the system, such that with limited resources, we can provide care to more patients,” he ended.
Similarly, in a separate plenary talk by Dr Markku Tervahauta, Director General at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL, he highlighted the value of digital health and what data can offer in terms of creating a more efficient healthcare system. Finland has ranked highly on the Digital Economy and Society Index for several years as well as having one of the best university hospitals in the world. But these achievements did not come overnight and took many years to get there. When talking about Kanta Services, a digital service for the social welfare and healthcare sector in Finland, Dr Tervahauta shared some key takeaways. To develop a national eHealth service, it is important to select two or three guiding principles that will give a strong basis and ethos for moving forward and have a strong legislative basis as it provides validity and backup for the initiative and gives enough push to overcome challenges.
As we have seen, with artificial intelligence, data, and technology, early diagnosis of diseases can be done more accurately and efficiently, healthcare providers’ time can be freed up for other tasks, and patients can have improved ease of seeking healthcare.
Going Forward: Climate Change and Healthcare
The future of healthcare also means we have to take into consideration how climate change will affect healthcare. As climate change continues to shift weather patterns, changing where crops can be grown and which diseases will thrive, how will the world deal with its effects on health? How will key stakeholders encourage sustainability in healthcare? And how can we improve health equity in such times?
In a plenary session “Boosting Health Equity in a World of Climate Change”, the panelists discuss the link between climate change and common health issues, what is the role of the health sector, and how we can scale up our solutions to climate change.
In discussing how climate change causes worsening health issues, Dr Swee Kheng Khor, Chief Executive, Angsana Health, mentioned that climate change can compromise food security, which in turn reduces the amount of nutrition available for populations. Climate change can also cause human societies to build temperature-resilient shelters and affect the availability of clean air and water. We later learn that the availability of clean water can also have an effect on the healthcare supply chain as some health products cannot be produced without clean, potable water.
When talking about the role of the health sector in a world of climate change, Dr Patrick Osewe, Chief, Health Sector Group, Asian Development Bank, said, “If the health sector was a country, it would be the fifth most polluting country in the world.” There is a clear urgency for the health sector to de-carbonise. Later on, Dr Khor added that we will need optimised protocols to reduce the waste and unnecessary use of polluting technologies like the MRI machine.
How then do we build resilient and sustainable health systems? “There are scientific and clinical ways for us to increase the resilience and enquiry of health systems,” said Dr Khor, but he pointed out how scaling up such solutions will require an amalgamation of all efforts from politics, science, and technology.
Future Investment Opportunities
Since opening up and reforming its economy in 1978, China now contributes about 18% of the global GDP. The country has ambitious plans to improve the healthcare for its 1.4 billion population, such as eliminating major diseases, improving drug safety, and establishing an innovative health industry as a pillar of the economy. With broader policy support for biotech investment, we hear from biotech and pharma industry leaders on the latest healthcare developments and the current investment landscape in China.
Starting off, Ambassador George Hara, Chairman of the Board, Alliance Forum Foundation, and Group Chairman and CEO, DEFTA Partners, shared that manufacturing industries are no longer interested in US investment communities and moved to the Greater Bay Area. This puts Hong Kong in an advantageous position as it now has R&D centres, financial support, and high-tech manufacturing capabilities.
Moving forward, Dr Guo Tong, Vice President, Head of Sales, Greater China, IQVIA, shared with us his thoughts on the next big thing in healthcare. He observed two major shifts in the world of data and digitalisation. In reference to data, in healthcare, Dr Guo believes that data, if collected properly, can be used to draft up a lot of information, which will be exciting to see in the years to come. In reference to the digitalisation of healthcare, he highlighted that while the healthcare industry has been lagging behind in this respect, we have witnessed some developments in the clinical trials field with decentralised clinical trials, where new technologies have been used to improve the efficiency of running these trials.
When discussing opportunities for the future, Professor Lo Yuk Lam, Chairman, GT Healthcare Capital Partners and President, HK Bio-Med Innotech Association, mentioned that China and Hong Kong have been focusing a lot on me-too and me-better drugs, which are important, but investors will have to look ahead and consider a future in other areas like cell and gene therapies, immunology, and infectious diseases. Adding on, Dr Guo also highlighted Hong Kong’s strength in medical devices and the opportunity of merging medical devices with data collection to provide care that is patient-centric.
As the Asia Summit on Global Health draws to a close, we see the tremendous potential artificial intelligence and technology has for improving patient care and enhancing the efficiency of healthcare providers.
While the future of healthcare looks promising for patients of the future, we also cannot neglect the effects the health industry has on the environment. By embracing innovation and sustainable practices, we can build health systems that are both resilient and patient-centric, meeting the needs of individuals and communities worldwide. [APBN]
- Hong Kong Trade Development Council (2023, 17-18 May). Asia Summit on Global Health 2023.