International Health Lecture 2017

Dr Samuel Myers delivered the 2017 Academy of Medical Sciences and The Lancet International Health Lecture under the title 'Planetary health: Protecting global health on a rapidly changing planet'.

Status: Completed

On Monday 13 November, the Academy of Medical Sciences, in partnership with The Lancet, hosted the 2017 International Health Lecture at the Wellcome Collection, London.

The International Health Lecture provides a platform for leaders in global health to discuss topics of international significance, promoting debate, discussion and the exchange of ideas on current research. For more information about the lecture series, including past events, please visit this page.

Last year's lecture was presented by Dr Samuel Myers, Principal Research Scientist at Harvard T.H Chan of School of Public Health and Director of the Planetary Health Alliance, under the title ‘Planetary health: Protecting global health on a rapidly changing planet’.

To coincide with the lecture, Dr Myers also wrote a manuscript under the same title, which has been published by The Lancet. You can access the manuscript on The Lancet website, free of charge following registration, by clicking here

Below, the Academy's Vice President (International), Professor George Griffin FMedSci, offers his reflections on the lecture. 

Dr Myers opened the lecture with the iconic photograph 'Earthrise', taken from lunar orbit by astronaut Bill Anders in 1968, reminding the audience of the Earth's beauty and fragility, and that the amazing technological advancements that have allowed man to walk the moon have also fuelled the worrying expansion of humanity's global ecological footprint.

Dr Myers continued by describing how impacts arising from human activity, such as pollution, climate change, and overconsumption of the Earth’s natural resources, have led to a rapid decline in biodiversity, increased carbon dioxide concentrations, increased acidification of the oceans, and resulted in the loss of tropical forests. These detrimental effects are despite the paradox that increased consumption has, in recent history, been accompanied by improvements in most measures of human health. 

However, citing a 2015 report by the Rockefeller Foundation and Lancet Commission, Dr Myers noted that while our exploitation of nature’s resources has so far led to improvements in human life expectancy and general health, it has become clear that we now risk causing a substantial decline in human health due to the degradation of natural resources.

As such, a new field has arisen that is rooted in understanding the interdependencies of human and natural systems – planetary health.

Planetary health maintains that the rapidly changing environment - including adverse effects on climate; biodiversity; and air, water, soil and biochemical cycles - impacts on our entire wellbeing, through influencing our exposure to diseases, changing crop availability and nutrition, impacting on our mental health, and increasing the risk of conflict and displacement, all of which are interrelated. Noting that current funding levels are inadequate to deal with the seriousness of the issues facing us, Dr Myers urged a paradigm shift in the way we research human health.

 Dr Myers also proposed some difficult questions which are still unaddressed, such as how further biophysical changes will affect nutrition, who is at most risk, and how much displacement and conflict can be expected as we continue to degrade natural resources? Drawing the lecture to a close, Dr Myers explained that solutions to these problems require us to better acknowledge the scale of the problem and will need experts and practitioners across all fields - public health, urban design and planning, engineers and more – to work in partnership.

The discussion that followed reiterated these sentiments. The lecture was attended by a diverse audience, including Academy Fellows, academics, representatives from Government, charities and industry, and a number of bioscience students. Dr Samuel Myers talked about his dual interest from a young age in both science and nature, and the struggle to find a synthesis, which he has now achieved through the field of planetary health. When asked about the way forward, he restated the importance of research funding for this new field, and agreed with one audience members assertion that reframing how we train the next generation of health care practitioners will also be important. Someone questioned whether there was any way past the ‘gloom of evidence’, to which Dr Myers responded, with a note of positivity, that he could certainly imagine a future with a realistic utopia.

The lecture was superb and inspiring, with a visionary integrated approach to the future of our health. It makes me immensely proud that the last lecture I attended before I demit office as Vice President (International) offered the audience such an incredible perspective on caring for the planet that we call our home.

Photos of the event can be viewed on our Facebook page.

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