Oral health the focus at UN event
NEW YORK, U.S.: At the 2019 United Nations General Assembly, a side event, hosted by New York University (NYU) and The Lancet, called for oral health to be integrated into universal health coverage (UHC). Among the main issues raised were the influence of the sugar industry worldwide and the importance of public–private partnership. The event was co-sponsored by the governments of Egypt, Japan and Thailand as well as the World Economic Forum and supported by the Henry Schein Cares Foundation.*
“Oral health is largely ignored in conversations about global health and UHC, but The Lancet’s series on oral health and our recent event have been critical in creating visibility and urgency for oral health,” said Dr. Richard Niederman, chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion at the NYU College of Dentistry and director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Quality-improvement, Evidence-based Dentistry (QED WHO CC).
In 2019, The Lancet published a series of papers on oral health. Dr. Habib Benzian, associate director of global health and policy for the NYU College of Dentistry’s QED WHO CC, co-authored a two-part article on UHC, focusing predominantly on the urgent need for reform and the role prevention will play.
Speaking about the action needed to be taken in a 2019 interview with Dental Tribune International, Benzian said: “We are calling for full integration of basic oral health care in universal health coverage. We consider that this is the most promising entry point for change. This means that everyone, irrespective of socioeconomic status, should have access to quality oral health care, including preventive services, at a cost that does not lead to financial hardship. Many countries have shown that this is possible and realistic.”
At the recent side event, the importance of innovative and collaborative partnerships not only in the dental community but also across all sectors was raised. On hand to put forward ideas about how to create a plan of action, Benzian said, “No one organization or sector can enact these recommendations alone, underscoring the need for collaboration and the important roles that governments, the private sector, academia, and others can play. Change happens incrementally, but we have to start somewhere,” he explained.
A number of co-authors of The Lancet’s oral health series were present at the event, and each had an opportunity to speak about their respective topics. Among them was Dr. Cristin Kearns from the University of California, San Francisco, who highlighted the influence of the sugar industry on science and policy processes, calling for reforms and strong conflict of interest policies to shield public health and dental research from harmful industry interference. Prof. Stefan Listl from Radboud University in the Netherlands discussed the economic impact of oral diseases, noting that dental diseases are the third most expensive diseases to treat after diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The conclusion of the event saw a panel of key oral health stakeholders, including corporate, research, professional and civil society organizations, discuss opportunities and challenges for partnerships and multisectoral collaboration. In his closing remarks, The Lancet Editor-in-Chief Dr. Richard Horton noted that the current poor state of oral health around the world is the collective failure of the entire global health community. He pledged the journal’s full support in fighting for better recognition of and priority for global oral health.