Sir Gustav Nossal praised 60 years of positive outcomes achieved through global health initiatives when he delivered the inaugural Peter Goodenough Memorial Lecture to more than 150 guests at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) on Tuesday (15 July).
A highly acclaimed Australian scientist, Sir Gus (as he prefers to be called) is now a consultant for the World Health Organisation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
He told the audience, which included several scientists who had trained under Sir Gus while he was Director of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Victoria, that despite the on-going challenges, science had made many significant advances in improving global health and was set to make many more.
“In July 2005, the G8 group of nations committed themselves to a new moral imperative: get rid of extreme poverty in the world; double aid to Africa,” Sir Gus said.
By way of introduction, Sir Gus underscored the serious nature of the task at hand by comparing the current global health challenges to the situation in Europe after World War Two (WW2).
He quoted the famous post-WW2 plea by US Secretary of State George Marshall, instigator of the famous Marshall plan for post-war reconstruction of the European economy, who said in 1948:
“Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. There’s no doubt in my mind that the whole world hangs in the balance.”
Sir Gus said the Marshal plan had cost an estimated four per cent of America’s GDP for several years (today’s equivalent of US$500b a year), and there were strong parallels between the situation in Europe 60 years ago and the current challenges facing the world.
“We’ve got a job to do,” he said.
“We have got to hold the politicians to their promise of doubling aid to Africa. To promise is one thing, to actually do it is another.”
Despite the challenges presented by Africa and the Middle East, there was a growing sense of partnership among members of the global community, which meant the world could afford the 0.7 per cent of world GDP required to make poverty history, he argued.
Unfortunately, only Norway, Sweden, Luxemburg and Denmark are currently meeting the 0.7 per cent of GDP target.
Sir Gus said that despite commendable advances in the battle against malaria, polio, tuberculosis, river blindness and elephantiasis, the global campaign against poverty and disease was crucially poised.
Just as importantly, contributions from corporations and private donors, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s US$1.5b for health initiatives, were making a real impact on improving people’s lives around the world.
Yet despite these encouraging signs, there remained huge challenges in coordinating delivery of low-cost essential vaccines and in the development of effective new vaccines for diarrhoeal and other debilitating diseases, he said.
With about US$800m being spent annually of the development of a treatment for HIV/AIDS, Sir Gus said it was disheartening to report that only one AIDS drug candidate currently remained in efficacy trials.
“But we’re not giving up,” he said.
“It’s just a case of us having to be an awful lot smarter than nature.”
In summing up his broad-ranging lecture on global-health reform, Sir Gus reminded his audience that the world health scene was “not an inactive one”.
“Somehow, the penny’s dropped ... we’re all living on the one spaceship … and we’ve got to figure out some way of getting a better health deal for mankind's poorest.”
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Notes to the Editor
QUEENSLAND BRAIN INSTITUTE
The Queensland Brain Institute was formed in 2003 as part of the Queensland Government’s Smart State Initiative, building on a long history of neuroscience at The University of Queensland. QBI is dedicated to understanding the molecular basis of brain function and applying this knowledge to the development of new therapeutics to treat brain and mental health disorders.