Social determinants of health at the Global Forum on Research and Innovation for Health 2015

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SPEED READ

 – Health is heavily determined by the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, and these, in turn, are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at local, national and global levels. These factors are usually referred to as social determinants of health.

– The Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) and its partners will host the Global Forum on Research and Innovation for Health (Forum 2015) in Manila, from 24-27 August 2015.

– Social determinants of health cut across many of Forum 2015 themes. In particular, they play a critical role in some of the topics that lay at the core of the programme, namely food safety and security, health in mega-cities and disaster risk reduction.

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As world leaders shift their focus to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, it is important not only to understand the impact of research and innovation on health in relation to broad development objectives, but also, it is critically important to emphasize the role that research and innovation can have in reducing health inequities.

Social determinants of health (SDH) are mostly responsible for health inequities. In other words, health is heavily determined by the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, and these, in turn, are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at local, national and global levels. The role of research and innovation in addressing SDH and promoting health equity has been emphasized by WHO’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health, which in 2008 published the report Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health: “[I]t is through the democratic processes of civil society participation and public policy-making, supported at the regional and global levels, backed by the research on what works for health equity, and with the collaboration of private actors, that real action for health equity is possible” .

With this in mind, COHRED, in partnership with the Philippine Department of Health and Philippine Department of Science and Technology, will host the Global Forum on Research and Innovation for Health (Forum 2015) in Manila, from 24-27 August 2015. Forum 2015 provides a platform where low and middle-income countries take prime position in defining the global health research agenda, in presenting solutions and in creating effective partnerships for action.

HR_forum logo+dates and placeOver the course of three days, Forum 2015 will use informative and interactive discussions, workshops, networking sessions and activities to allow participants to interact, inspire, learn and partner to increase their own impact. This event will bring together all stakeholders who play a role in making research and innovation benefit health, equity and development. This includes high-level representatives from government, business, non-profits, international organizations, academic and research institutions and social entrepreneurs among others.

The programme for this event will be built around two major pillars showcasing: (1) key concepts needed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of research and innovation for health and development, as well as (2) ways that research and innovation contribute to solutions to important global health and development challenges faced by low and middle income countries today.

Forum 2015 programme pillars and themes

I. Increasing the Effectiveness of Research and Innovation for Health:
• Social accountability
• Increasing investments
• Country-driven capacity building

II. The role of Research and Innovation:
• Food safety and security
• Health in mega-cities
• Disaster risk reduction

Clearly, social determinants of health cut across many of these themes, but in particular, they play a critical role in the second pillar of this year’s programme, under the themes of food safety and security, health in mega-cities and disaster risk reduction.

For example, the objective of food security is not only to facilitate the accessibility of nutritious and sufficient food for people, but also to provide economic and physical access to food for socially vulnerable groups. Sessions under Forum 2015’s food safety and security theme will focus on research and innovation in scientific, economic, rights-based, and commercial terms to ensure new solutions and scale up existing efforts, to ensure that food and water remain – and become – accessible and affordable to all. Social determinants in this theme reveal themselves in choices taken in agricultural production, access and distribution of food, and even dietary habits and safety standards, which all vary by region and population.

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The rise of mega-cities creates a range of health challenges, both new and old – from the rise of NCDs and return of infectious disease, to traffic related accidents and mental health issues. These issues are shaped by social determinants including housing conditions, unsafe water sources and poor air quality, to poverty, marginalization and limited access to basic healthcare.

With regards to disasters, there is wide international agreement that efforts to reduce disaster risks and increase resilience must be systematically integrated into national policies, plans and practices. As governments all over the globe are taking initiatives to reduce their risks, sessions under the disaster risk reduction theme in Forum 2015 will examine issues related to vulnerable populations who disproportionately bear the brunt of that risk, along with the range of socio-economic factors that influence the health disparities that arise between these vulnerable groups and the general population.

While it is clear that social determinants affect the disparate health outcomes of population groups in relation to food security, health in mega-cities, and vulnerability to disaster, SDH research, as well as the need for high quality research on SDH, could appear throughout the Forum 2015 programme.

Forum 2015 encourages participation by all as the meeting programme spans a wide range of topics and input is welcome in form of organized session proposals and abstracts, also on how to feature SDH more prominently in the programme this year in Manila.

Anthony Nguyen and Charlie Kent (COHRED)

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