Global Health Primer

What is global health?

Global health…

  • includes issues that directly or indirectly affect health and often transcend national boundaries;
  • requires the development and implementation of solutions inclusive of a variety of actors and disciplines;
  • embraces both prevention in populations and clinical care of individuals; and
  • emphasizes health equity among nations and for all people.

What are some major global health challenges?

  •  HIV/AIDS has received much media attention over the last 30 years as a quick moving epidemic. Now, interventions and education have slowed the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, stigma, limited access to testing and treatment, and vulnerability to other infections remain in many parts of the world.
  • Malaria is caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes. Malaria is prevented by use of insecticide-treated nets by people at risk and treatment through quick access to medical care. In some regions, the parasites have become resistant to medication.
  • Tuberculosis (TB) is now treatable, although some strains of the bacteria are resistant to medications.
  • Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) is a group of infectious diseases caused by parasites or bacteria that affects the world’s poorest people. Includes dengue fever, rabies, leprosy, trachoma, and Guinea Worm, among others.
  • Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are chronic diseases that are not contagious. Examples include cancer and diabetes. Causes include tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and harmful use of alcohol.
  • Maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) ensures adequate prenatal, birth, and newborn care to reduce maternal and newborn mortality from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) allows families to plan and space pregnancies to maximize the mother’s well-being, in addition to reducing unintended pregnancies and lowering HIV infection rates.
  • Nutrition ensures people are educated about, and have access to, healthy foods to support child development and healthy immune systems in adults and children.
  • Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) ensures access to clean, potable water and knowledge of hygienic practices, including hand washing and appropriate waste disposal, which prevents the spread of illness in impoverished communities and improves access to education and income.
  • Health Systems Strengthening combats weak health systems that make it difficult for individuals to receive proper care. Health is improved and lives are saved when the institutions, resources, and health care workers have adequate financing, leadership, and resources.
  • Well-trained and well-equipped Frontline Health Workers provide services directly to communities where they are most needed, and are often the first, and sometimes the only, link to health services for rural and remote areas.
  • Health Research and Development builds capacity to develop or improve medical products.
  • Vaccines and Immunizations reduce or eradicate diseases such as polio and smallpox through global immunization programs.
  • Health in Humanitarian Response provides health care for populations affected by natural disasters and violent conflicts. It is essential during a crisis response to not only treat victims but to prevent secondary outbreaks as well.
  • Global Health Security is the capacity to prepare for and respond to public health threats and reduce or prevent their spread across borders.
  • mHealth uses mobile technology to enhance the impact of medical and public health efforts and provides essential health information to communities.

Who are the ‘main players’ in global health internationally?

There are many different actors in global health that function at different levels but all play a valuable role in improving the health and livelihoods of all:

  • Donor governments, such as the U.S. government, give money, resources, and support to implement health programs.
  • National governments distribute funding as well as provide official support and coordination for programs and responses within their borders.
  • Multinational organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), provide a forum for nations to gather and come to a consensus on approaches to, and best practices in, global health issues.
  • Foundations support global health initiatives by providing funding for research, prevention, and education.
  • Civil society and nongovernmental organizations liaise and advocate with each other and other actors, such as private sector and government entities, to ensure the best utilization of resources. They also partner with local organizations to implement health programs.
  • Academic institutions research treatments and medicines in addition to training future global health practitioners.
  • Corporations
  • Private Sector Actors include corporations which manufacture and/or transport medicines, vaccines, and medical supplies as well as provide services directly to populations.

Who funds global health?

The U.S. government is the largest annual donor to health, and donor government funding is a major component of the global health response. The donor mix has diversified over time, as multilateral organizations, private foundations, international financing organizations, and public-private partnerships become increasingly engaged in global health. Influential global health funders include:

Pharmaceutical and private medical corporations are also positioning themselves as philanthropic leaders in global health spending.

What are examples of global health programs that have worked?

  •  Eradicating Smallpox: Though it was decades in the making, the eradication of smallpox only became realistic with the establishment of the World Health Organization’s Smallpox Eradication Unit, which came in tandem with increased technical and financial support from the U.S., the campaign’s largest donor. In May of 1980, smallpox became the first disease to be declared eradicated.
  • Combating AIDS: PEPFAR – the President’s Emergency Response for AIDS Relief – was created in 2003 through the leadership of President George W. Bush and with bipartisan Congressional support. PEPFAR has blunted the AIDS epidemic in Africa and around the world to the point where an AIDS-free generation is within reach.
  • Nearly Eliminating Polio: In the 1980s, polio was endemic in over 120 countries; 350,000 people – mostly children – were paralyzed by the disease each year. Now, polio is prevalent in only three countries – Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan – with only 416 cases reported in 2013, thanks to education and vaccinations.