Health for “Continents and Billions”

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Welcome to the new PLOS Blog on Global Health. Aiming to challenge and inspire, this blog explores some of the defining health challenges of the dawning century and draws on the experience and expertise of knowledge leaders from around the world.

 

I’m an Australian medical doctor, now completing a PhD in Global Health at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. My job involves many things. Research, teaching, writing and political and social advocacy to name a few, and I get to meet and work with many interesting and inspiring people. Whether in Mongolia, the USA, Ethiopia, Australia, the UK or Cambodia, these knowledge leaders all have one thing in common, an inspired passion for Global Health.

 

Through the medium of this blog, we hope to inspire you.

 

So what is Global Health? Well, Global Health can describe any of three things.

 

First, a state or condition. Global Health is something we value, strive for and monitor. We have seen enormous leaps forward in the last centuries with epidemiological and industrial transitions. Improved nutrition, water and sanitation, vaccinations and medical care have all resulted in longer lives for many and a generally healthier global society.

 

Second, Global Health is an aim or goal; a healthy global community. Whether within the medical profession and health system, or in another sector of society, most would regard this as a worthy vision for all sectors and something we as a global community should and do continue to strive for. Equity of health, universal health access and the highest level of wellbeing possible.

 

Finally, Global Health is a specialty field, a science and an area of study. An evolution of public health and a sister to international health, this area of science has emerged rapidly in the setting of an increasingly globalised, inter-connected, mobile world. The Institute of Medicine describes Global Health well, as ‘health problems, issues, and concerns that transcend [multiple] national boundaries, may be influenced by circumstances or experiences in other countries, and are best addressed by cooperative [global] actions and solutions’. Where public health focuses more on population medicine and epidemiology within nations, and international health is more focused on the movement of health, knowledge, expertise and assistance between partner nations – usually one rich and one poor – global health is firmly focused on the issues which define health for continents, and even most continents. It is about health for the billions, not the thousands.

 

So what are some of these ‘big issues’? To keep things simple, I will just name two. Highly debatable, but I will name what I would define as the two biggest health concerns of our coming century..

 

The first is climate change – don’t see the health link yet? You will..

 

I believe in climate change. I am terrified by climate change. For me, for my society, for all societies and for my kids – that’s future, I don’t have any kids. Unmitigated, rising sea levels will mean more conflict, displaced populations and more severe natural disasters. Growing up in a nation with 240 million people living on an archipelago to our north, this is a serious regional and global issue. Changing seasons will threaten food security and up to 30% of food crops in Asia. Warmer temperatures will see malaria and other vector-born diseases in new and unprepared populations, and more than 500 million people in Africa will experience increased water stress by 2030.

 

 

The other defining issue, is Non-communicable diseases. I read a paper recently which made the clear and alarming point that the current young generation in many societies including in the USA, could be the first in history to be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than the one before. NCDs, or heart disease, diabetes, cancers and respiratory disease, constitute the largest contributor of deaths globally – 36 million per year and growing. Up to double by 2030. These are not diseases of rich, old, lazy, white American men. These are diseases which cause, result in and entrench poverty; with the worlds poorest populations and the poorest in my community bearing the largest brunt of morbidity and mortality. In some ways, they are a reflection of everything we as humanity have worked hard to achieve in the last 100-150 years but ironically, NCDs now threaten the social, economic, cultural and environmental fabric of every community on the planet.

 

Defining the problem is crucial. Further though, it is paramount that we also look horizontally and realise that many of the defining global health issues are also interrelated. Climate Change and NCDs, for example, share the same causative and mitigation factors – but we will explore this more in the coming months..

 

Another point, is that while we may frame these problems as health issues, they are in fact much more than health issues and also defining social, political and economic issues for our global community. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we might act on a scale that is needed.

 

In this light, Global Health is also not simply a medical or biomedical field. Addressing the defining health issues of our coming century involves the know-how, skills and thinking of knowledge leaders from all sectors. Economics, law, policy, social sciences, communications, design – the list goes on. A multi-sectoral approach which acknowledges health must be a priority and something involving the input and support of everyone. Sounds ambitious and maybe even unrealistic? In fact, this is exactly what the strongest global health bodies and institutions around the globe are doing. This is also what this blog aims to bring you. In addition to myself, I’ve sourced a diverse team of inspiring guest bloggers from a range of sector; each with their own take and ideas on how to tackle the big issues.

 

Confused? All will become clear over the coming months, I promise.

 

Welcome, to Translational Global Health.

 

 

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