Question: What is the single greatest threat to global health?
Paul Nurse: This will be a strange answer but it's: arrogance that we think we know what to do.
There's a variety of diseases out there which are of significance to global health, the infectious disease, but also in more westernized nations, issues to do with cancer, obesity, heart disease and the like.
I think the biggest challenge is arrogance. We still do not know enough about these diseases. We still do not know how to deliver care in the most effective way. Even though there is quite a lot of money sometimes aimed with very benevolent intentions, we think of institutions such as NIH investing in diseases in the developing world, of Gates Foundation, the Welcome Trust and the like. But often we do not know enough about the disease or how to deliver it in our own more advanced societies, let alone in underdeveloped communities in Africa.
We have to accept that we don't know the answers and put more input in to how we deliver that than simply thinking we can go to Tanzania and put a hundred million dollars there and solve the problem, because often it ends up simply not dealing with the problems.
So I think it's arrogance at all levels, both in not understanding the nature of the disease, and thinking all the basic research has been done, it has not. It's thinking that we now know how to treat it in particular ways, often high tech ways, but perhaps not the most effective ways, we should do get better treatments, we still don't know that. And then trying to apply it in countries where there isn't 24 hours electricity every day, so you can't refrigerate samples and so on, means you have to take a completely different approach to how you deliver medicines and health care.
Arrogance is my number one bogey in this. That's what we have to get rid off.
Recorded on: May 20, 2009