Expectations high for first Boao Global Health Forum

By David Lee | ( ) | 2019-01-24


Li Baodong, Secretary General of Boao Forum for Asia, introduces relevant information. [Photo / People's Daily Online ]

Boao Forum for Asia, known for its high-profile discussions that promote Asian economic integration and help drive development dynamics in the world's fastest-growing region, is making a big foray into global health. Expectations are high for the first Boao Global Health Forum, as announced by Li Baodong, former senior Chinese diplomat and newly appointed Boao Forum for Asia secretary-general, to take place in Qingdao, Shandong province, in the coming June.

I laud Boao Forum for Asia for its new commitment to health, a key development within the forum following the election of the new board last April with Ban Ki-moon, former UN secretary-general, as chairman, and Zhou Xiaochuan, former People's Bank of China governor, as vice-chairman. The forum secretariat, with Li the articulate and adroit diplomat at the helm, is apparently on the right track to continue pulling off big, meaningful dialogues, only now boosted by key insights and strategic input from former World Health Organization director-general Margaret Chan, newly appointed as the Boao Global Health Forum president.

If the distinguished management of the nascent Boao Global Health Forum is any indication of the important health debates to follow, I'd highlight the significance of the Qingdao Initiative to be launched at the Boao Global Health Forum, jointly disclosed by Li and Chan at a news conference earlier this month. The initiative, still under development, is expected to address key problems of growing concerns involving noncommunicable diseases, tobacco use and alcohol consumption.

These problems relate to increasingly significant health debates about healthy lifestyles and behaviors, about the strategic focus shift from treating diseases to lifecycle health management, and about how best national and international resources can be leveraged to offer protection and promote meaningful policy change.

Boao Forum, first of all, benefits Asia, a region that gathers some of the world's most populous and biggest developing countries. It's therefore crucial that we make things super clear here – noncommunicable diseases are not "diseases of affluence". Globally, the burden of noncommunicable diseases is rising in developing countries, which also bear the greatest morbidity and mortality. It is also an opportunity to spread the good news – noncommunicable diseases are not a force of nature about which we can do little.

The Boao Global Health Forum is expected to bring about keenly sought after international best practices to address specific problems. Therefore, I'd be looking to some seminal panels that disseminate good science and help find meaningful policy tools in relation to tobacco use, alcohol consumption, sodium intake and effective public health surveillance.

When it comes to public health, it's always inspiring to look at actual implementation, particularly how science and policy combined, taking into account local conditions, would benefit the target demographics. That said, I laud Boao Forum once again for choosing Qingdao, Shandong province, to host the important health gathering. Local colleagues are eager to share their stories of noncommunicable disease work, particularly on tobacco control and sodium reduction fronts, as pockets of influence to provide key evidence. It's also worth mentioning that the Healthy Lifestyle Action in Shandong has already entered its second stage, ready for step-up and scale-up following community-based pilots in multiple localities over the years.

International development dialogues, those on health development included, should always be bidirectional. Qingdao and Shandong have lots to offer, and I hope international health colleagues would find useful references to inspire.

The year 2019 marks the third anniversary of the landmark Healthy China 2030 Strategy. It is also a key moment in history running up to 2020, when a range of China's national noncommunicable disease midstage milestones should be met, including reducing smokers above 15 years of age to 25 percent and reducing the population's daily sodium intake by 10 percent. The Boao Global Health Forum, including its Qingdao Initiative, is therefore happening at the right time. I look forward to June in Qingdao for a renewed push for the health cause.

The author is a Beijing-based consultant working on international development issues, covering public health, clean energy and poverty reduction.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.