What is global health? Where does delivery come in?

by Anjali Sastry on February 2, 2011

Global health takes on health problems that cross national boundaries, traditionally focusing on those that impose the greatest burden in resource-limited settings. To address the challenges, the field now encompasses a broad range of disciplines. Proponents have argued that it should account for “cultural identities, political organizations, transnational corporations, civil society movements and academic institutions” (Frenk 2010), along with populations.

Recent reframings of global health place interdependence at the center. If the origins and effects of many of today’s biggest health problems cross national borders, then global health should be less concerned with geographical location or stage of development, and more concerned with the ways in which health issues are interconnected. This new definition of global health thus aligns with calls for multilateral collaboration and learning that flow both ways across state, sector, and socioeconomic boundaries, and for recognizing “the many contributions of both resource-rich and resource-scarce nations” (Fried et al, 10). In fact, some argue that global health is (or should be) “collaborative trans-national research and action for promoting health for all” (Beaglehole & Bonita, 10). Others note that acknowledging interrelationships requires equity to factor into solutions (Frenk, 10; Piot & Garnett, 10).

Why does this matter? Global health has become a growing theme in education and training (see CUGH), public policy (US GHI), and philanthropy (e.g. Gates). In every country, it is also a daily concern for clinicians, managers, and other practitioners and implementers in the field. In all four domains, useful public knowledge for global health is needed. How can research studies and improvement interventions deliver insights and findings that others can use? And how can the complexities entailed by interactions and change over time be taken into account so as to guide future action in the most useful manner possible?

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