Read the Conversation
EF: What does global health mean to you?
VG: Global health is public health on a global scale. People's health is interconnected, and it is one global entity. Meaning, the way we address healthcare in one part of the world has the potential to impact the health of those in another part of the world.
EF: Could you describe your current footprint, history, and what your company aims for?
VG: The Virchow Foundation for Global Health was founded in 2021, so we are a rather new foundation and organization. Our mission is to drive international awareness and engagement for global health. We achieve our mission through four pillars of activities; networking with stakeholders and disciplines related to public and global health, promotion of research projects and the application of research results and supporting symposia and conferences within the field of global health. The fourth, and largest, pillar is the awarding of the Virchow Prize for Global Health. It is the only award of its kind that recognizes innovations with significant impact on the broad health challenges faced by our global community, while upholding the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The Virchow Prize is intended to honor exceptional individuals and organizations at a high level for their commitment to global health, energizing the field, and incentivizing great minds to improve health access and outcomes. This is our unique role within the international health community. It is the legacy and footprint we are working to leave behind.
We are looking forward to awarding the Virchow Prize for a second time this year, which will take place on October 14th in Berlin City Hall. The 2023 nomination phase is currently open until March 31st. We highly encourage qualified nominators to submit if they know an individual or organization who has dedicated their work to global health. All the information can be found on our website.
EF: Last year’s winner Dr. Nkengasong awarded the €500,000 prize to the networking alliance of African Field Epidemiology (AFENET) in Uganda. What do you think is the impact of the donation he made?
VG: The Virchow Foundation was founded as an awareness-raising platform. We are collaborative at our core. Through the foundation, we seek to unite different actors from academia, politics, and others to work jointly on new partnership opportunities. It is the vision of the founders that a large portion of the prize money is given back to the community. It was a pleasant surprise that John Nkengasong donated the entire prize endowment to AFENET, which went towards addressing health inequities in vulnerable populations in Africa. The awarding of the Virchow Prize, which elevates the recognition of the laureate and their work, supports relevant engagement before and after the ceremony. The funds are being donated back to the community, which injects money and awareness back to global health topics. From this, future collaborations and partnerships can grow. It is our hope that the inaugural laureate will serve as a role model for all future awardees of the Virchow Prize, also when it comes to the use of the prize endowment. The goal is to fuel this ecosystem, teamwork, and a global vision.
EF: What are some of the most pressing global health issues you see now, and how can the Virchow Foundation increase awareness of these issues with the prize and the different initiatives?
VG: One of the most pressing and key challenges in global health, especially in 2023, is financing. The pandemic revealed the urgent need for investments in health systems and innovations. Germany has been a leader in setting the strategy for global health, having established a global health sub-committee within the parliament and a federal government strategy on global health that launched in 2022. The WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence also opened in 2021 in Berlin through active support from the German government. All these initiatives demonstrate commitment and lessons learned from the pandemic and show us different innovative ways to repair the chronic lack of investment. Today, ongoing issues, including the geopolitical war, energy crisis, and inflation, are continual risks to maintaining global health on the agenda and achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 3 – good health and well-being for all.
During the pandemic, we witnessed considerable innovation in testing and vaccination development for covid-19. It demonstrated the value and benefits of collaboration between governments and industries. But on the other hand, access to testing and treatment for chronic and other infectious diseases like HIV, TB, and malaria was drastically reduced. Therefore, it is highly beneficial for investment in health to continue. When investment is robust, global health can withstand unexpected shocks.
The Virchow Foundation and the Virchow Prize are still quite new, but the prize is something unique we bring to the global health ecosystem in Berlin. By offering an avenue of awareness raising, we are working to inspire and open new platforms for the winners and their work at the highest level. We are fortunate to have some of the top international experts engaging with the foundation and prize within its Board, Council, and Virchow Prize Committee. This is one way to elevate awareness and generate connections towards possibilities for innovation in health.
Highlighting John Nkengasong once more, he was an excellent example of this. He started from humble beginnings to become a highly educated and successful virologist, who uplifted others on his way to the top by providing opportunities to access health and education. John helped launch the Africa Centers for Disease Control and brought many people together from different backgrounds. Sharing these stories, like Dr. Nkengasong’s, and highlighting the possibilities available to everyone to pave new and innovative solutions helps fuel, support, and strengthen the healthcare infrastructure. It creates unique partnerships, cross-industrial relationships, open communication, and knowledge sharing.
We cannot return to the status quo and how things were before. Sometimes we take these systems and mechanisms for granted, but we must continuously think of different ways to improve.
EF: How do you see the concept of global health in reducing the gap of technology asymmetry globally?
VG: The difficulties in achieving universal health coverage come down to the frameworks that cause discrepancies in access, research, and knowledge sharing. These discrepancies then increase between countries with more limited access to investment and resources. We can see this with HIV, for example; a pandemic we have been living in for 40 years. The burden of this disease continues to be highly unequal around the world and the delayed diagnosis, treatment, and cure speak a lot to the inconsistencies in interest and investment for certain diseases.
Therefore, we must break down the borders between us and begin to view global health as public health on a larger scale. The future is uncertain, but investing in health stimulates a ripple effect to generate a more stable economy and society. The importance of having a global perspective cannot be overstated.
EF: How is the Virchow Foundation working toward bridging the gaps of knowledge exchange in global collaborations between stakeholders?
VG: Although the Virchow Foundation is based in Berlin, Germany, our outlook is global. We recognize global health from Berlin to the world. We accomplish this through networking and growing partnerships with both local and international stakeholders, collaborating with academia, the community, politicians, and parliaments. It is a bridge we can provide for international stakeholders to engage in Germany.
Germany is a global health leader, and Berlin is the city of global health. We play a unique role by supporting Berlin and finding ways to connect the pathways internationally. We are a platform for global health and aim to be a strategic partner in this space. The Virchow Foundation is keen to support and network to elevate others in global health. There are other strong global health actors in Germany and our collective aim is to provide an international and valuable contribution to the entire effort so that we can all foster and thrive together.
EF: What do you look forward to for the Virchow Prize in October? What are you most excited about, and what are your expectations?
VG: We are thrilled that we were founded a year and a half ago and to have achieved so much within a short amount of time. As a team, for all our partners and the upcoming winners involved, it is exciting to see the development and evolution of the organization. We will be much wiser this year from the lessons learned last year from an operational perspective. Our committees and processes are more established.
We will host the 2023 Virchow Prize for Global Health ceremony in Berlin City Hall. The 2022 award ceremony was hosted under the high patronage of the German Federal President and the Virchow Prize was debated in the German parliament the evening before, facilitating global health in a plenary debate for the first time. To now have the ceremony organized in City Hall, demonstrates the government’s continued support of global health initiatives.
The most exciting part is the suspense of not knowing who will win. The winners are announced on the second Monday in September, this year on September 11th. Once the nomination phase closes at the end of March, the Virchow Prize Committee will deliberate through the summer. After the decision is made, the award ceremony will be a celebration of the laureate/s and their achievements.
Looking to the future, it will also be exciting to see this group of laureates grow. With John Nkengasong as the first, he can now pass off to this year's winner and keep the network going. A core criterion of the Virchow Prize eligibility includes development of health improving innovations that can be scaled for broad impact. We reflect on the lifetime achievements of the laureates’ work and look into the future of how their work can influence global health. We look at how it all fits into the global infrastructure.