By: Maria Wilson
Global Health Office Outreach Assistant
Global Health is an attractive and high profile field. We encounter global health issues on a daily basis, often without even realizing. In 2014, the West African Ebola outbreak was sensationalized in the media for months, featured heavily on every major Canadian media outlet. Several of the world’s largest charitable organizations – which you may work with, donate to, or benefit from – target global health issues. Poverty and health inequities continue to affect both our local and global communities. Students are being encouraged more and more to engage in international experiences in order to become well-rounded “global citizens.” Global health is all around us.
But what does “global health” really mean? If we asked five experts in the field to define global health, chances are each would provide a different response. Why? Because global health has grown over the years to encompass a variety of ideas and notions, including interdisciplinary cooperation, infectious and non-infectious disease, international development, social justice, food security, maternal and newborn child health, and environmental issues…and the list goes on. Global health is broad in scope, and each one of us may approach our work in slightly different way.
Academics have tried to define global health in past. Perhaps the most well-known and widely accepted definition of global health is that of Koplan et al. from 2009:
“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” .
While this definition touches on many important aspects of global health like equity, and a worldwide reach, it fails to address the “how.” We can study, research and practice global health, but what are the best ways to engage in our work? How do we find common ground?
I must admit, I don’t have the answers to these complex questions (yet), but I’m hoping that in the near future the global health community comes together to arrive at a solution. Until then, these are questions we should all be cognizant of when we approach our work in global health. Just like Koplan et al. called for the adoption of a common definition in global health in 2009, I am calling for an updated, universal definition of global health in 2016.
Why is it important to come to a consensus on what global health means? As global health continues to grow and become a part of our everyday lives, we must come together to determine a more clear purpose, and path for the future. With everyone working with a common framework in mind, towards shared goals, we will achieve the best outcomes moving forward.
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