In Focus

HealthLEADS: A Call for Global Health Community

HealthLEADS-A Call for Global Health Community

By Syed Nazakat

It all started with a breakfast conversation about how to make sense of health and how to build a community around it. When we launched a digital platform for health news in 2015, I never imagined that we would build one of the world’s biggest open-source health data hubs, create powerful collaborations with doctors in more than 30 countries and anchor global debate about health misinformation. I never expected that support would come from all corners: fellow journalists, academics, doctors, scientists and technologists and, most importantly, individuals like you. We won global recognition and three international awards, including the prestigious British Medical Journal Award — the Oscar-equivalent in medicine.

In the short span of a few years, we have developed a global health fact-checking network which is now a verified signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).  We’ve more than 40 doctors, public health professionals and scientists in 30 countries, helping us to monitor the internet and boost our content moderation efforts. In collaboration with Google News Initiative, we’ve built a pan-Asia platform for doctors and journalists to discuss ways to address challenges related to misinformation.  Six months before the COVID-19 outbreak, we brought together 150 delegates – doctors, scientists, policy makers and fact-checkers – in Singapore as part of the Google News Initiative Trusted Media Summit to discuss the rising challenge of Misinformation in Medicine.  A year later, the network became bigger as 620 delegates – policy makers, government officials, WHO team members, health journalists, fact-checkers and public health specialists – from over 55 countries joined us virtually to discuss how to build a global response to the infodemic.  We have been at the forefront in covering the pandemic, including our on-ground reports from China in the early days of the outbreak.

Our data team has devoted the last two years to cleaning and publishing thousands of data sets on global health. At Kruxd, a global health data hub, we provide access to comprehensive and credible health datasets in easy-to-comprehend and attractive visualisation formats. Our mission is to make health data accessible for everyone.

Last year, I asked my team members to join me for a two-day long design thinking workshop. The aim was not to arrive at definitive solutions, but to stimulate discussions and brainstorm new ideas. I asked each team member two things. What do we want to do more comprehensively and second, what should we not do?  At the end of the workshop, one thing was clear to most of us that we need to solve problems, to create and provide information in a format that is actually helpful to people. Second, there was wider agreement in the team that we need to engage our readers and community more strongly. Collaboration is particularly important when it comes to subjects such as health. We see doctors and other healthcare professionals as important collaborators in our endeavour to provide people with accurate and timely information. Innovation, reimagination and collaboration have been the engines of change from time immemorial.

Today, we are expanding our work by launching HealthLEADS.

Honestly, we were reluctant, even apprehensive that we were not quite ready. However, we decided to take a leap of faith and plant our flag in the ground to say, as my great mentor would often say, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed people can change the world”.

At DataLEADS, we are certain that now is the time for change, the time to act. The next 10 to 20 years years will not look anything like the last 500 years.

In many ways, COVID-19 has made our work even more urgent. The pandemic has accelerated global dialogue and partnerships to build better health systems and ensure equitable distribution of healthcare resources around the world.  Over the last two years, we have engaged with hundreds of healthcare leaders, doctors and researchers across Asia to outline a collective agenda. Our learning has been that if  we can’t give clear, accurate messages about something as transparent as COVID-19 vaccine, what hope do we have for the complexity of climate change and its impact on global health? In 2022, we’ll be reaching out to our partners for more collaboration opportunities, engaging in community organising efforts, hosting listening sessions and engaging more doctors and scientists in editorial planning to envision a different future for our information spaces, habits, institutions and culture.

From scientific publications and research papers to long-form reports to series of conversations with prominent thought leaders as well as doctors across verticals doing inspiring work – we are excited to share with you everything we have planned for HealthLEADS. We will also be starting a blog series by medical students and young doctors talking about their daily lives, medical training and professional issues. Our focus will remain on data and our team at Kruxd will do fortnightly data blog series on diverse health-related topics. As the human dimension of climate change takes centre stage worldwide, we will be keenly covering the global debate about health and climate crisis in a special fortnightly column.

Our endeavour is to bring together the global health community on a digital platform. We will develop and host world-class events to bring the rigour of informed analysis and intelligent debate vis-a-vis health on international forums. We believe the quality of our conversations dictates the quality of our decisions, which then, of course, affect the quality of our outcomes.

It’s not just a matter of which stories we cover. It’s a matter of building close engagement with our readers, the people and communities. It is about understanding information voids and positioning ourselves to help fill those. It is about constant innovation to reimagine the future of health. I’m increasingly beginning to realize that the way we think about collaboration is not just people working together and getting along without challenging one another, but whether people (different stakeholders) have shared goals and whether they invest in the idea of a common goal. The quest for a better and healthy future requires collaboration because global health is not a solo act. It calls for huge collaborative efforts globally.

As we embark on a new journey with HealthLEADS, I want to thank you for all your love and support over the years. I hope we will continue our conversations and collaborations with renewed vigour and shared optimism.