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January 25th, 2011
03:52 PM ET

A doctor in Davos

I flew into Zurich, Switzerland this morning, and then traveled two hours to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF). On the way, I learned Davos is Europe’s highest-altitude city. It is a small and remote place with only around 13,000 residents and only one road in and out. The WEF is a five-day meeting where 2,500 of the world’s top business leaders, heads of state, and public figures get together to try to solve the problems confronting the other nearly 7 billion of us.

It is a remarkable concentration of some of the best minds in business, technology and politics – all together in one remote destination. I can tell you, despite its high-profile attendees, the forum isn’t official or formal.  Former President Clinton is just "Bill" here in Davos. There are no titles, and there are no fancy restaurants. Most of the attendees hang out in the cafeteria hall.

To be clear, though, there are two meetings going on here. After the panels are completed, there are dozens of private gatherings where some of the real work gets done. If you have heard of the Global Health Initiative, you may also know that Kofi Annan launched it at the 2002 annual meeting. The mission was to take advantage of the public/private partnerships towards combating malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. In 1989, North and South Korea spoke for the first time here at Davos.

If you are surprised that a doctor is attending the meeting, I shared that sentiment until I started learning about the objectives of this annual meeting, which has been held since 1987. (Since 1971 as the European Management Forum). Turns out health, and its impact on economic development, are big topics here. In terms of health care delivery, there is growing recognition by the forum that existing models simply aren’t sustainable in developed countries, and there simply isn’t enough access in the developing world. Some of that is old news, but the topics at Davos were chosen to address solutions in these areas. For example, I will be moderating panel discussions on topics ranging from personalized medicine to combating chronic disease.

Bill Gates and I will sit down and talk about eradicating polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He believes the effort is one of the most productive ways of stabilizing this war-torn region. He is here to encourage world leaders not to shy away from funding global health, because the returns are so enormous in terms of good health and good will. Craig Venter and I will discuss his creating a synthetic bacteria designed on a computer using man-made DNA. And, I am especially interested in sitting down with President Paul Kagame to talk about how he turned post genocide Rwanda into one of the safest and cleanest countries in Africa. He has done everything from simply eliminating the use of plastic bags to setting up a national health care system.

No doubt, many are interested in instant answers and headlines, and that is unlikely in this mountaintop town, even with this collaboration. And, Davos alone won’t change some of the real health challenges the world faces, but for the next five days, the sharpest minds in the world will be focused on these issues.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.