Healthcare Diplomacy: Diverse voices should tackle problems that transcend borders and politics

Healthcare: The global common denominator

August 03, 2022
Dr. Maliha Hashmi
Dr. Maliha Hashmi

By Dr. Maliha Hashmi

One year ago, the world media asked if another “roaring twenties” were upon us — a post-pandemic period of prosperity.

I think we may have a different point of view about this now.

Halfway through the year and the international headlines are telling a much different story.

But let’s be optimistic, shall we?

In these times of growing global uncertainty, volatility and divisions, one common denominator that can bring us all together is healthcare.

The pandemic, while tough, has shown us the way. I don’t remember a single another occasion in my lifetime when the world collectively faced the same crisis irrespective of nation or background, whether young or old, rich or poor.

Whether a world leader, a billionaire or a rice farmer, the rules were the same.

It has succeeded in bringing us together in ways unprecedented, strengthening existing ties and forging new ones.

The applause that greeted frontline healthcare workers in Italy found its way into other countries, as each nation in turn confronted the pandemic. We were all appreciative, in social media and on the street.

In healthcare we have seen how physicians, healthcare design experts, researchers and scientists joined forces to defeat the virus — a cunning enemy that had zero respect for geopolitical concerns, border controls, immigration policies or cultural wars.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, researchers collaborated with scientists overseas on developing a coronavirus preventative drug and mRNA-based vaccine candidate against COVID-19, among other partnerships.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia has called for increased global collaboration to improve digital maturity, including analytics and telemedicine services, in the Middle East to improve outcomes.

We have also seen how the great international hubs of the world have opened up to welcome international healthcare professionals, creating new melting pots of talent.

Take the UAE, for example.

Under new rules, the Golden Visa will be granted to researchers and scientists with high achievements as recommended by the Emirates Scientists Council.

These changes will attract foreign professionals working in healthcare and research to the UAE, and encourage them to settle for longer.

Previously, the UAE government allowed all doctors residing in the country to apply for the Golden Visa, granting them and their families 10 years of residency.

These visa changes will create a petri dish of ideas and fruitful collaborations resulting from mixed nationalities and backgrounds coming together in one place.

But what if we were to enact these melting pots of ideas on a much bigger scale?

We have seen new agreements struck between multilateral institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Commonwealth recently — both committed to strengthening collaboration in areas such as equitable access to vaccines, described as the world’s most pressing political, economic, social and moral priority.

Yet, while laudable, this is just the beginning and much more can be done.

I firmly believe we need more expertise from different walks of life and more stakeholder alignment on a global level. We need more diverse voices at the table. And no, this is not me being “woke”. This is common sense.

As a change-maker, I am passionate about evolving health systems and health designs for the betterment of society, but for this to happen we need input from people with hands-on experience – the health system design experts, the health leaders, the frontline caregivers directly helping patients; the data scientists; the AI developers; the receptionists greeting patients; the list goes on.

Ultimately, if different stakeholders and representatives worked together to tackle a common problem, not necessarily all from a healthcare background, we would — theoretically — identify solutions more quickly to the world’s pressing healthcare challenges, whether sustainability in healthcare, tackling aging with formative techniques in longevity, obesity, cancer or Alzheimer's.

This cross-pollination of ideas can be applied to any global issue. Global crises demand coordinated action, and it’s time that we acted in a more united fashion — our survival as a species may depend on this.

The pandemic will not be the last of its kind, and there are brewing challenges to come, chief among them the climate crisis. We cannot afford to delay any longer.

As a health expert with a background in health, medicine, law, policy, jurisprudence, education and systems designs management, I take the initial step forward for collaboration and positive impact to cross-pollinate through this piece; let the positive impact and cross-pollination conversations begin.

— Dr Maliha Hashmi is a prominent female health leader in KSA. She is one of the Top Seven Most Talented Female Health Leaders of the MENA region.

(This article was originally published by Fortune magazine in Arabic.)

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