What is global health?

We live in an increasingly interconnected world and students are increasingly demanding more opportunities to learn more about Global Health. But what exactly do we mean by the term Global Health? We can start of by defining what is not, it has its routes in the disciplines of hygiene and tropical medicine, these terms however conjure up imagery of Doctors off in the colonies and philanthropists aiming to improve the health of the great unwashed. We also know that it is not International Health either which places the emphasis strictly on helping those overseas in developing countries.

A possible definition

‘Global health is an area for study, research, and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving equity in health for all people worldwide. Global health emphasises transnational health issues, determinants, and solutions; involves many disciplines within and beyond the health sciences and promotes interdisciplinary collaboration; and is a synthesis of population-based prevention with individual-level clinical care.’
Koplan JP, Bond TC, Merson MH, Reddy KS, Rodriguez MH, et al. (2009) Towards a common definition of global health. Lancet 373: 1993–1995

In effect global health is a lens through which to view health problems which require interventions at various levels to solve them. Take the following example:

A malnourished child in a developing country

  • Is it the lack of health care workers to identify that they are chronically malnourished?
  • Is it a lack of micronutrients existing in local food?
  • Is it because of high food prices? Or local drought?
  • What about the lack of access to education for the mother who dilutes their formula baby milk?
  • Is it exacerbated by chronic parasite infection? And is the infection due to alack of access to treatment or inadequate housing and sanitation.

Issues in global health

As you can see from this example there is a huge range of issues raised:

  • Health systems
  • Agricultural practice
  • Global finance and commodity speculation
  • Climate change
  • Education
  • Women’s rights
  • Infectious diseases
  • Access to medicines
  • Urban planning
  • Sanitation
  • And more…

You can also apply these types of questions to individuals nearer home looking at issues at health problems through the lenses of inequality, cultural values, migration and more.

As you can see all health through the lens of global health and tackling global health challenges requires multidisciplinary approach to tackling them.