3 So, what is global health?
The first step to understanding global health is to ask what we mean by health. You may already be familiar with the WHO definition of health as ‘a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ (WHO, 2006, p. 1). This definition therefore goes beyond ‘scientific’ biological conceptions of health, and emphasises the wide range of contributing factors, such as social and environmental influences on health.
This emphasis on the influences on health is also in the concept of global health. Although this concept has increased in popularity over the past decade, its meaning often remains ambiguous, with many using the term undefined. Drawing on the work of Koplan and colleagues (2009), global health can be seen as an area of study, research and practice that focuses on people’s health across the globe, in high-, middle- and low-income countries alike, and recognises that health is influenced by issues that surpass national boundaries.
Activity 3 Global health – no boundaries
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There is a recognition within the concept of global health that influences on health do not respect national boundaries. This has implications for how health issues are addressed. Work on global health emphasises that there is a need for transnational collaboration in relation to research, and action across all sectors to prevent ill health and promote health for all. Therefore, global health is about:
- worldwide health improvement (for example, reducing infant and child mortality across the world)
- reduction of disparities (for example, reducing inequalities between urban and rural areas in different countries)
- promotion of health equity (for example, ensuring everyone has access to healthcare)
- protection against global threats that disregard national borders (for example, wars and natural disasters).