The Aspen Health Forum gathered an impressive group of around 250 people to discuss the most pressing issues in Health and Medical Science (check out the Program and the Speakers bios), on October 3-6th. It was the first conference, by the way, where I have heard a speaker say: “I resuscitated a woman yesterday”.
Key highlights and trends:
1- Global health problems require the attention of the scientific community. Richard Klausner encouraged the scientific community to focus on Global Problems: maternal mortality rates, HIV/ AIDS, nutrition, cancer, clean water. Bill Frist, former Senate Majority Leader, added to that list the increasing epidemic risks of global zootic diseases (transmitted between humans and animals), supported by 2 interesting data points: at any one moment, there are 500,000 people flying worldwide; in a year, airlines transport the equivalent of 2 billion passengers.
2- “Let’s get real…Ideology kills”. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, on what it takes to stop HIV/ AIDS: “I am from Ireland, a Catholic country. And I am Catholic. But I can see how ideology kills..we need more empathy with reality, and to work with local women in those countries who need things like female condoms.” She was implicitly criticizing the large budget devoted to unrealistic abstinence programs. This session included a fascinating exchange where Bill Frist rose from the audience to defend the role of US aid, explaining how 60% of retroviral drugs in African countries have been funded by the American taxpayer, highlighting President Bush’s courage to make HIV/AIDS a top agenda item in many developing countries, and criticizing other countries for not doing enough. Which made Nobel Prize Laureate Peter Agre, also in the audience, stand up and encourage the US to really step up to the plate and devote 1% of the GDP to aid, as a number of European countries do, instead of 0.1%.
3- Where is the new “Sputnik”?: Basic science is crucial for innovation and for economic growth, but it is often underappreciated. Scientists are not “nerds”, as sometimes they are portrayed in popular culture, but people with a deep curiosity and drive to solve a Big problem. Many of the speakers had been inspired by the Sputnik and the Apollo missions to become scientists, at a time when the profession was considered cool. Two Nobel Prize Laureates (Peter Agre, Michael Bishop), talked about their lives and careers trying to demystify what it takes to be a scientist and to win a Nobel Prize. Both are grateful to the taxpayers dollars that funded their research, and insist we must do a better job at explaining the scientific process to society at large. Both are proud of having attended small liberal arts colleges, and having evolved from there, fueled by their great curiosity and unpredictable, serendipitous paths, into launching new scientific and medical fields. Bishop listed a number of times where he made decisions that were considered “career suicide” by mentors and colleagues, and mentioned “I was confused” around 15 times in 15 minutes…down to earth and inspiring.
4- We need a true Health Care Culture: Mark Ganz summarized it best by explaining how his health provider group improved care when they redefined themselves from “we are 7,000 employees” to “we are a 3 million strong community”, moving from Read the rest of this entry »