UK and China agree prevention is key

Una O’Brien CB, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, and staff from the British Embassy in Beijing visited The George Institute for Global Health, China’s offices in Beijing to discuss the health issues affecting people in not only China and the UK, but people all around the world.

Ms. O’Brien’s visit comes on the heels of the Global Health Policy Summit held in London on August 1 as a chance to reach out to researchers and policy makers already active in the battle against non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally.

Her visit to The George Institute, China was an opportunity to learn more about the Institute’s work in health systems research and NCD prevention and control, but her particular interests were learning more about how the Institute transforms what we know works into real world, low-resource settings.

“What works in a well equipped hospital in London doesn’t necessarily work at a rural clinic in China, and vice versa. Ms. O’Brien showed a lot of interest in our China Rural Health Initiative, which is training local village doctors to manage high risk patients as a good example of taking something that we know can work in an ‘ideal’ setting and tailoring it to the reality of rural Chinese life,” said Professor Lijing L. Yan, Deputy Director of The George Institute, China.

“A lot of our discussion focused on this translation of various tools into real world situations to reduce the already large burden of chronic illness in China and elsewhere. This is a key area where we can learn from each other’s experiences in our respective countries,” she added.

The Permanent Secretary was also interested in diabetes globally and in China, and what we can do together to alleviate this global epidemic. Not just the size of the burden was discussed, but where the gaps are in the health system and how we as academics and those involved in public policy can contribute to positive change.

“It is clear that prevention is the key to getting diseases like diabetes and other chronic illnesses under control. Health systems in China and the UK and many other places are not prepared for the sheer volume of patients that will suffer from diabetes alone, not to mention other NCDs like cardiovascular disease and stroke. Without prevention and key changes to our health systems, they will collapse under the pressure in the not too distant future,” said Professor Yangfeng Wu, Executive Director of The George Institute, China.

Researchers at The George Institute and Ms. O’Brien agree that prevention and health systems changes are going to be absolutely necessary, but it does not stop there.

Both Ms. O’Brien and Professor Linong Ji, Chief Scientist at The George Institute, China and an internationally renowned diabetes researcher, agree that educating the public on diabetes prevention and the disease itself is an important priority internationally.

Ms. O’Brien’s visit also provided an opportunity to reinforce The George Institute, China’s ties and connection with the United Kingdom, where the George Centre for Healthcare Innovation is hosted at Oxford University.

“Ms. O’Brien was very well informed on the burden and urgency of NCDs. She is clearly very motivated and passionate on the topic, and encourages the globally community to work together to make lasting changes for the people of the UK and others around the world. The meeting was very positive and we hope to continue to engage in dialogue with her and others in the healthcare arena in the future,” concluded Professor Wu.