Mental health, climate and disease: Wellcome Trust’s Director of Strategy on tackling our big health threats

With an endowment of £26 billion, the UK’s Wellcome Trust is the fourth biggest foundation in the world. As one of the leading funders of global health, it has been at the forefront of efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic. Drawing on decades of experience funding research and science Wellcome recently announced a new approach for how it plans to help solve some of the biggest health threats facing people across the world. 

Ed Whiting, Wellcome Trust Director of Strategy.

Ahead of Alliance magazine’s December issue focusing on global health, Wellcome’s Director of Strategy Ed Whiting joined our Digital and Executive editors to talk about the foundation's new strategy, its place in the health and research funding world, and why the issues of global heating and mental health will be far more central to its future work.

Alliance: The Wellcome Trust recently launched its new strategy which involves a focus on three main areas: infectious diseases, mental health and global heating. Could you tell us a little bit about the thinking behind that choice?Ed Whiting: We’ve been really thinking about what the place of Wellcome is in the world, how is the world changing, and how has Wellcome changed. We talked to a number of people around the world – funding partners or those who we know in big academic institutions, but also people in countries that we don’t fund much or in communities we haven’t engaged with a huge amount. And a couple of things that came out really strongly is that we need to use our independence, and we need to use the perspective that we have because we work in lots of different fields at once: discovery, translation, policy, advocacy, public engagement, and all sorts of other things. And our potential value in the world is bringing those things together. On the focus areas, when we talked to people around the world, when we looked at the burden of disease and all sorts of other indicators, it felt to us – and it’s a judgement call – that what really jumped out were escalating risks of infectious disease, mental health problems, and the way global heating is changing health.

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