Planetary health builds bridges between two systems: my lessons as an expert in medical technology

By Kreske Max

I come from the fields of engineering, management, and medical technology. My education and career path are thus genuinely interdisciplinary. In medical technology, different worlds meet. Clinical medicine, physiology, and pathophysiology are combined with mechanics, electronics, sensor technology, and software. My overarching goal with this background has been to protect the health of the patient while improving the healthcare system.

The solution strategies of the medical and technical sciences are very different. The problem with that is that caregivers are dependent on good medical technology solutions to treat the patient optimally. However, the best technical device does not always help patients when not integrated into clinical knowledge and usability. Such solutions become irrelevant. Medical and engineering science are closely intertwined. In my opinion, it is essential to successfully establish medical technology as a health intervention through exchange and cooperation between the two fields.

In the exchange between medical and engineering science, it is essential to learn from each other. It is essential to think systematically across borders and to have a common goal in mind.

Once a suitable solution has been developed, the knowledge is disseminated by making connections between physiological relationships, causes and effects, defining remedial measures and simple operable steps. It is, therefore, a matter of building bridges between two areas and establishing new connections, which in turn lead to new solutions.

Medical technology primarily helps to diagnose and treat diseases. It does not structurally attack problems that lead to a decrease in the prevalence of diseases. In an international setting, one learns that a concept of health must also always be seen in a social context. Culture, resources, and education systems influence healthcare. In my involvement with Future EDM, a student organization that supports education and health projects in Senegal, I have experienced that education, awareness, and knowledge of influencing factors are essential components besides the availability of technology. Our biggest project so far is the “Health Ambassadors.” Young adults pass on knowledge about health (STIs, hygiene, reproduction) in a peer-to-peer approach. In turn, the trainers train new trainers who travel to their regions to plan regular training events. In their health intervention, the ambassadors make connections, build mental bridges, explain cause, and effect and offer remedial actions.

In society, risk and factors influencing health, such as nutrition, addictions or infectious diseases, are prominently discussed. Various educational campaigns by health institutions try to create and increase awareness. At the same time, more and more attention is being drawn to the climate and biodiversity crises to protect the most relevant resource for human health: nature. 

When I first heard about the concept of Planetary Health, a new bridge was built for me again.

Suppose we carefully try to design in the medical technology industry in collaboration with medical expert’s ventilation therapies for COPD patients (chronic obstructive lung disease). In that case, we also have to think in broader terms about educational campaigns about smoking, air pollution, and climate change. 

The concept of Planetary Health links SDGs 3 – Health and Wellbeing to SDG – 13 Climate Change, to leverage on the synergies of many sub-targets. It demonstrates that the climate crisis is also a health crisis. In consequence, we need a health intervention for us and for the planet. As in medical technology, bridges need to be built between two fields to create new connections that lead to new solutions. Planetary health broadens perspectives and creates new collaborations. Solutions and projects must be worked on systematically across borders with the common goal: health is conditioned by a healthy planet and to become healthy, the planet needs healthy people.

About the author: Kreske Max studied Industrial and Biomedical Engineering at the Technical University of Luebeck. Her current assignment is the development of innovative ventilation and intensive care solutions (currently with a focus on premature and pediatric patients). She volunteers in projects related to global health, education, and female empowerment. Working on interface functions in a global environment, she developed a passion for system thinking and cross-functional teams. She aspires to advocate for implementing and advancing the UN SDGs and integration of Planetary Health to shape our future. 

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