Research for health and the world's oceans

Angela Merkel at the dialogue forum Research for health and the world's oceans

The Presidents of the national academies of science of the G7 states have presented Chancellor Angela Merkel with statements on the most important research issues relating to the G7 agenda. The scientific and research community is urgently needed in the fight against disease and in the field of environmental protection, said Angela Merkel.

Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks.

The Chancellor promised to look in detail at the proposals of the scientific and research community

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

Direct discussion with civil society is especially important to Chancellor Angela Merkel during the German G7 Presidency. "I am very keen to incorporate the expertise of the research community and of course of other civil society groups in the G7 process."

Issues of global importance

In view of the current situation, she looked at the refugee problem complex in her speech. The funds available for search and rescue activities are to be tripled and steps taken to clamp down on gangs of traffickers. It is, however, critically important she said to address the root causes of the problem. There can be no doubt that wars, a lack of security and economic hardship play a role. All these issues are on the G7 agenda. "If the leading industrialised nations agree on issues of global importance and on how to address these, then we have already achieved a great deal," said Angela Merkel.

The Chancellor would like to use the G7 summit to push ahead with two UN projects: firstly, a worldwide climate agreement and secondly an agenda for sustainable development. Other focuses of the G7 summit include health and protection of the marine environment. Research scientists have addressed these issues in their statements.

Taking the example of Nigeria and the Ebola epidemic, Angela Merkel demonstrated that states with properly functioning health systems are better able to weather a crisis than countries that do not have this advantage.

"It is the duty of the national academies of science to bring their scientific expertise to the political debate," said Professor Jörg Hacker, President of the Leopoldina, the German National Academy of Science. "The dialogue between the academies of science and the heads of state and government of the G7/G8 states in the run-up to the annual summit meeting has become firmly established over the last ten years, and demonstrates that scientific expertise is indispensable in international politics."

Representatives of the national academies of G7 states were invited to the G7 dialogue forum. Before the meeting they presented their science-based recommendations on selected aspects of the summit agenda to the G7 heads of state and government. The event was organised by the Leopoldina, the German National Academy of Science.

Neglected tropical diseases

The Chancellor also spoke about neglected tropical diseases, which often affect people in the poorer regions of the Earth. This is an area in which we often see classical failure of markets, said Angela Merkel. "Drugs and vaccines are simply not developed because the profits that can be expected are too low, or non-existent," she explained. If the Ebola virus had not already been researched in depth, the situation would have been even more disastrous.

In their statement on health, the national academies focus on 30 diseases, including African trypanosomiasis also known as the sleeping sickness, onchocerciasis or river blindness and dengue fever. The national academies of the G7 states call for capacities to be expanded to enable the affected countries to cope better with these diseases. Research should be stepped up and affordable treatments developed, they say.

Infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance

The Chancellor intends to attend the next annual meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO). As well as tropical diseases the meeting will look at the rising number of infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The WHO is to present an action plan which the G7 aims to support. Angela Merkel advocates ending the use of antibiotics in the fattening of livestock and ensuring that antibiotics are classed as prescription drugs across the board.

In view of the drop in effectiveness of antibiotics, the G7 academies of science call for research to be accelerated, and for new antibiotic active agents, vaccines and diagnostic procedures to be developed. Research in this field should be made a priority in order to close the gaps in our knowledge about important diseases. Global monitoring programmes should also be introduced for antibiotics, and the general public made more aware of the risks involved. When major epidemics hit, preparations must be in place to enable a swift and coordinated response, say scientists.

The future of the oceans

On the third key issue of the G7 the Chancellor said, "Intact oceans and coasts are crucially important for the human race. They provide a habitat for numerous species and are a source of food and raw materials for human beings, as well as providing recreation."

Angela Merkel pointed out that our oceans have become a global dustbin, with plastic waste (13 million tonnes of it a year) being the most serious problem. Centuries pass before plastics can be broken down. The Chancellor aims to achieve a G7 action plan to tackle the waste pollution of oceans. The Chancellor is also extremely concerned about ocean mining and the risks it entails. Mandatory international standards are needed here, she said.

Scientists also see the acidification and warming of the oceans as an urgent problem, caused by climate change. The eutrophication of oceans as nitrogen fertilisers used in agriculture are washed into the seas compound the situation. Anthropogenic pollution of the seas must be reduced. Overfishing must be ended to retain marine biodiversity and keep marine ecosystems functioning. This will require research-based management and improved international cooperation.

The Chancellor promised to look at the proposals in detail. "I hope I can convince you how seriously the G7 Presidency takes global issues, including health and the need to protect the marine environment," said Angela Merkel at the close of the meeting.

On 7 and 8 June 2015, the G7 heads of state and government will be meeting at Schloss Elmau in Upper Bavaria for their annual summit. In addition to issues relating to the global economy, and foreign, security and development policy, they will consult on the UN Climate Change Conference and the UN summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda, both of which will be taking place before the end of the year.

Other priority issues include:

  • Protection of the marine environment, marine governance and resource efficiency in the environmental sector
  • Antibiotic resistance, neglected and poverty-related diseases, and Ebola in the health sector
  • Standards in trade and supply chains
  • Empowering self-employed women and women in vocational training.