Global Health in a Nutshell
Global health is an area of study, research and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving equality in health for everyone worldwide. (1)
Many medical residencies include a global health rotation, and it is now common for students to earn degrees in this field. The concept of global health encompasses a range of factors, from infectious diseases to economic, environmental and political influences.
As the world becomes smaller, more and more issues that affect people worldwide are coming to the forefront. From the global spread of HIV to the increasing number of deaths caused by noninfectious diseases, there is much work to be done.
The idea behind the term “global health” is to address these issues from a global perspective, with the goal of finding global solutions and frameworks that can be implemented in countries around the world. This can include research, education, and action.
However, there is a danger in framing this concept too narrowly. With international travel and trade becoming more common than ever before, it’s possible that new infectious diseases could be transferred from country to country at an unprecedented rate. Likewise, problems like obesity are already affecting the health of people all over the world. This is why the term must be used broadly to include any issues that could affect global health in some way.
One guiding principle of global health is the notion that a problem anywhere in the world is a global health issue. This idea has led to the creation of numerous global health institutions, scholars, and students, along with international organizations such as UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders.
Many of these groups focus on issues that transcend borders, such as infectious diseases like COVID-19 and Ebola that travel between countries or environmental pollution that causes illness and premature death in all regions of the world. These types of global issues require the involvement of multiple disciplines, including but not limited to those within the health sciences, in order to reach comprehensive solutions.
As the world becomes more interconnected, global health concerns are on the rise. Infections can travel with ease between countries, and climate change can impact people’s health in multiple ways.
Many organizations focus on global health. Some are large and well-known, such as UNICEF or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Others are small and specialized. Regardless of their size, these groups share a common goal of protecting human health and responding when international threats emerge.
A widely cited definition of global health defines it as an “area for study, research and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving equity in health for all people worldwide”. This is a useful and important definition. However, it focuses on classical public health actions and ignores the underlying social, economic, environmental and political determinants of health. A better, more inspiring definition of global health is: “the emergence and transmission of diseases that travel across populations and boundaries and call for action on the forces that shape human health”. This definition highlights the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration to improve health outcomes.
Despite hard-won gains in eradicating infectious disease, global health threats continue to emerge. In addition to the timeless problems of poverty, hunger and famine, they include a growing tide of chronic noninfectious diseases in low- and middle-income countries. Climate change, natural disasters, and pollution can undermine even the most well-prepared nations.
Individual health is also impacted by mental illness. Severe mental health conditions, such as depression and suicide, can lead to a shorter life span and a reduced ability to participate in a community.
As the world becomes more interconnected, a health threat anywhere is a threat everywhere. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention work 24/7 to protect the health, safety, and security of Americans — even when they are far from home. We’re working to prevent and respond to global health threats before they reach our shores. Because a healthy America is essential to a healthy world. And a healthy world is critical to the future of our planet.
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