I am writing this week from Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, where I have been attending an event that marks a new International Health Regulations (IHR) Strengthening Project which will be a partnership between our two countries. The IHR represent an agreement between 196 countries to work together to strengthen global health security funded through the Department of Health and Social Care UK Aid budget. Through this PHE will be working with the Governments of Nigeria, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Myanmar to strengthen their IHR compliance. Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world with an expected doubling of its population to around 400 million people over the next 30 years. It has recently overtaken India to have the world’s greatest proportion of people who are very poor and they have a high burden of infectious diseases where enhanced public health interventions could make a real difference. Central to future success will be the recently formed Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, led by the brilliant Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, who is championing the rigour and professionalism that will drive forward public health standards. Dr Ihekweazu is an exemplar leader who inspires all those around him. He received his public health training in England and it will be our great pleasure to continue our work with him. Through the IHR programme led by our Dr Ebere Okereke and coordinated in country by Dr Olusola Aruna, we will work with NCDC on a variety of areas including disease surveillance, emergency preparedness and response, public health laboratory services and quality assurance, and workforce development. I also had the opportunity to spend time with our teams from both the National Infection Service and Emergency Response Department who are supporting laboratory strengthening and emergency planning. There is already significant mutual learning. You can read more about the global health work PHE does in our introductory blog.
On Monday our annual flu campaign begins with a particular focus on pregnant women, parents of children aged 2-3 and adults with underlying health conditions. The campaign will be one of the first to roll out under the new ‘Help Us Help You’ brand. This brings together messaging on flu, staying well in winter, NHS 111, pharmacy and extended GP hours and will encourage people to look after themselves and to make the most appropriate use of the NHS. A huge number of partners will be supporting this, including, pharmacies libraries, prisons, nurseries, and many more so please do take a look at the resources available on our Campaign Resource Centre. You can learn more about the new flu season in our Q&A style blog.
Being relevant to people in the lives they lead, the places they live and when online, and understanding how this influences the choices they make and how this affects their health is the reason why behavioural science matters so much. Using this expertise can help design and evaluate policies, services (including digital), and communications that are centred around the people that use them. Whether it is encouraging smokers to quit, making healthier food choices easier or reducing the number of antibiotic prescriptions, these sciences have a vital contribution to make. PHE, working with many partners, has led the development of a strategy to help policy makers and practitioners apply behavioural sciences to their work.
And finally, this week the Prime Minister announced the lifting of the cap on local government being able to borrow money to build more social housing. In her speech the PM noted that the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our time. The Government’s response to calls from local government to lift the cap is very welcome news and will enable local authorities to significantly increase high quality housing for local people.