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Academic Medicine Fighting Chronic Disease Can Fix Healthcare in Florida and the World

By University of Miami President Julio Frenk:

Nearly three years after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, preparedness has emerged as the top public health priority for 2024 and beyond. The backdrop for this focus is compelling: The next pandemic is already here. We face an ongoing crisis of chronic disease that not only generates huge economic and societal costs, but also increases the risk from emerging infectious diseases and seasonal viruses.

We need more than just a new pandemic playbook; we need transformative change to healthcare, which must be led by academic medical centers partnering with both the public and private sectors.

Life expectancy has grown dramatically, but so have chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Widespread healthy aging is the only sustainable path forward, as recognized by the U.N.’s Decade of Healthy Ageing.

The challenge is not just one of science and medicine, but also organization and mindset. Operating at the intersection of research, education and care, academic medical centers are poised to shape the models for the future.

We need a health policy agenda that links, scales and strengthens all available tools to address chronic disease, at every level. As a former federal secretary of health, I saw this need as we worked to modernize the health system in Mexico — progress that has stalled in recent years. As the president of the University of Miami, home to the only academic health system in South Florida and one of only three NCI designated cancer centers in the state, I now see Florida as the frontlines: home to the second-oldest population in the U.S., the second-highest number of new cancer diagnoses, the highest overall diabetic healthcare costs and the second-largest population of people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s a bold, concrete goal to jump start the change: build a comprehensive effort that mobilizes funding and collaboration for chronic diseases, much like how the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) have expanded global vaccine access. Diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes are the ideal change catalysts because they are such massive challenges, and also the focus point for a wave of potential breakthroughs.

Read the rest of the article in the Miami Herald.