By Ilia Stambler, PhD
Potential establishment of a state program in Kazakhstan to improve the healthspan of the population.
On May 19, 2016, the World Health Organization released its report “World Health Statistics: Monitoring Health for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, describing the recent state of global health. The study reports rapid improvements in global life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. Though there are still considerable gaps and inequalities within and between countries. Can and should we do better?
Apparently there is one country, within the “developing” cohort, that seriously considers taking some action to improve its national health. On May 25-26, 2016, there took place the global economic and political forum at the capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan – The Astana Economic Forum 2016. The speech of Kazakhstan’s president – Nursultan Nazarbayev, is quite indicative of the country’s ambitions to narrow the international gaps. President Nazarbayev made a strong point about the fact that during the 25 years of the country’s existence, since its independence in 1991, the average life expectancy of the Kazakhstan people significantly increased, reaching 72 years (compared to about 64 in the early 1990s). This suggested the improving of health and longevity of the population as one of the main parameters of the country’s progress.
Going from directives to practice, it transpires that some concrete state-supported steps are now being discussed in Kazakhstan that would be explicitly dedicated to improving the country’s healthspan values, via strengthening national biomedical research, development and translation capabilities. A case study has been developed for a global healthspan extension program in Kazakhstan named “The Global Healthspan Extension Initiative”. The focus on healthspan extension is warranted by the increasing life expectancy and the corresponding increases in the incidence of aging-related diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases, despite the current improvements in healthy life expectancy. Reducing these non-communicable diseases is a key priority for the SDG and WHO. As defined by Elya Duissemaliyeva, Managing Director of the Denobi Group and one of the key managers of this initiative, the aim of the program would be to “create a translation biotech hub (not just for basic research) in Kazakhstan with a primary focus on personalized and precision medicine.”
The Global Healthspan Extension Initiative under consideration in Kazakhstan aims to develop the country’s biomedical and biotechnological R&D and translational infrastructure by encouraging fast development and clinical translation of new life- and healthspan extension technologies through clinical trials, manufacturing, improved biospecimens and repositories, and IT infrastructure. It aims to establish new R&D centers and companies, building up collaborations of scientists and biotechnology entrepreneurs. It intends to accelerate R&D process and authorization of advanced new technologies thanks to expedited regulatory pathways and expert roadmaps for clinical trials and technologies approval. In short, the Global Healthspan Extension Initiative, if adopted, would set up the improvement of healthy lifespan, via advancement of biomedical technologies, as one of the explicit and central programs of the country’s development.
If indeed adopted and implemented, the impacts of the Global Healthspan Extension Initiative can be far reaching, not only for Kazakhstan, but globally. It may be safely stated that, if approved and implemented, the Global Healthspan Extension Initiative would be one of the first, or even the first state-level program specifically dedicated to improving the healthspan for the country’s population via development of biomedical technologies. Moreover, if adopted and implemented, this would be one of the first, or even the first state-level program explicitly aimed to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. It may be highly informative to see how this experiment proceeds, to learn from its successes and failures. Just the fact of its planning and establishment may stimulate other countries to consider analogous or enhanced programs.