"We need an expert council for public health"

Why Germany lagged behind for a long time in matters of "public health", why countries like Great Britain test and sequence so much more - and why policy advice must finally be systematized in the pandemic: an interview with Charité Dean Axel Radlach Pries.

Mr. Pries, why is Public Health still so poorly positioned on the German biomedical research landscape?


I no longer believe this is the case. In the past ten years, there have been major advances in this field. It would however be correct to say that medicine in general has only recently begun focusing on global issues pertaining to health.


Why is this the case?


I feel that this development reflects long-term repercussions of the National Socialist era. Indeed, following this period of history, many physicians wanted to distance themselves completely from politics. The field of "Pure Science," focusing on basic research into physiological mechanisms and curative medicine was politically untarnished. As a result, it was long ignored that medicine always operates in a social and thus political environment, shaping health and healthcare policy in the process. However, this is increasingly changing. The German government's growing dedication to issues of international responsibility has surely contributed towards this.

Axel Radlach Pries is a medical doctor, professor of physiology and dean of the Charité University Medicine in Berlin. Since this year he has also been President of the World Health Summit, a Berlin-based international health conference. 
 Foto: Wiebke Peitz, Charite Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

The UK is clearly ahead of Germany in terms of corona testing capabilities and viral genome sequencing, how can this be?


Indeed, this is currently the case. However, this view is based on a momentary glimpse of a very dynamic environment. It shouldn’t be forgotten that at the start of the pandemic, Germany was clearly ahead in terms of testing capacity. But what is certainly true is that Britain was able to change course quickly. This is due to the fact that interaction between politics and science worked very well. In addition, the UK is home to some truly outstanding biomedical research. Per capita, this line of research receives significantly greater funding in Great Britain and Scandinavian countries than it does in Germany. However, the current pandemic has clearly demonstrated that greater commitment to biomedical research is necessary and furthermore that this approach proves "worthwhile" in economic terms.


How can we improve future interaction between medicine and politics in Germany?


This requires several approaches. On the one hand, further investment into “Public and Global Health” resources is essential. This includes the technical and personnel upgrading of health authorities so as to improve networking both with each other and with the scientific community at large. On the other hand, we need a broadly positioned expert council for population health, along the lines of the long-existing German Council of Economic Experts, which represents a similar expert body in the economic field. Advice with respect to healthcare policy must finally be organized systematically in the  current pandemic and thereafter.

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