Global Health

What is Global Health?

Global health is an overarching term that describes the world’s quality of health. Various individuals, institutions, and organizations define global health in a number of ways according to their involvement, experience, and motivations. The following are widely circulated definitions of global health. Consider their language, lens, approach, and attention to detail as you read through them: 

Global Health Inequities

Not all populations experience the same health education, care, or treatment options. When a population suffers a disproportionately high burden of disease or experiences a lack of access to sufficient medical care, it is considered a global health inequity. Preventable and treatable diseases can debilitate and kill people who live in areas that lack access to preventative medicine or adequate healthcare. See the charts below and compare the most common diseases that affect populations of low, middle, and high-income countries.

What is Structural Violence and how is it Linked to Global Health?

Global health inequalities result from a system of oppression, violence, and injustice.  Through socially and historically embedded structures, individuals become vulnerable and susceptible to preventable diseases and illnesses.

The legacy of colonialism is a leading cause of structural violence. Colonialism instilled a flow of capital from the global South to the global North, taking natural resources and agency away from those living below the Equator. Countries that had access to their own resources and those of other nations became “developed countries” while those that were forced to export their resources for little or no compensation are what we now consider “underdeveloped countries.”

Leading global health physician and advocate,  Dr. Paul Farmer, describes structural violence and the abuses it produces:

“Human rights violations are not accidents; they are not random in distribution or effect.  Rights violations are, rather, symptoms of deeper pathologies of power and are linked intimately to the social conditions that so often determine who will suffer abuse and who will be shielded from harm” (Farmer 2005: xiii)

To analyze health inequities, it is important to understand the processes of structural violence that increase human suffering.  

Key Players

The human suffering associated with health epidemics can be so severe that it can transcend national boundaries. The effects can be experienced worldwide and have social, political, and economic repercussions that can only be addressed through international efforts.

A number of institutions, individuals, nations, and agencies are involved in issues of global health and structural violence. They each have a unique history, approach, and mission, as well as access to various resources.

Multilateral Agencies

Multilateral agencies are institutions that collect funds from governments, corporate sponsors, and/or private donors and redistribute it around the world.

These and similar institutions are heavily involved in the fight against disease and poverty, whether through providing direct food aid, building wells to improve access to clean water, or working to improve a nation’s education system.

Bilateral Agencies

A bilateral agency collects its funding from whichever state created it. There is generally a political, economic, and/or historical explanation for which countries give and receive aid. Examples of these in the United States include:

Non-Governmental Organizations

The final category of important figures in the fight against health inequalities are non-governmental organizations, or NGOs. NGOs are privately run and funded organizations. Many programs that seek to garner public support and awareness in the United States are NGOs. Some of the most well known include:

With their individual motivations, each of these organizations play a critical role in increasing global awareness and inspiring action for their cause.  Each level of organization attacks global health inequalities from a different angle and in a different way yet all hold the overall goal of working toward a more equitable world.

Why Should we Care?

Land area shown in proportion to maternal mortality in 2000

Global health can be far, obscure, and is not always understood as a direct national interest. So why should we care? The most basic answer is that we cannot afford not to.

Global health doesn’t just affect low-income countries; it’s more than infectious disease and poor sanitation. Global health is best addressed internationally and cross-culturally because health threats don’t stop at national borders; global health demands international attention to secure everyone’s safety and good health.

The Families USA’s Global Health Initiative outlines a number of reasons US citizens should invest in and care about global health. First, humanitarian issues speak to the number of unnecessary deaths, parentless children, lifelong injuries, and productivity-reducing illnesses that affect people all over the world.

FamiliesUSA explains that:

  • 90% of the world’s illnesses affect 10% of the population, so working to solve global health will contribute to a more fair distribution of the world’s resources.
  •  In 2008, three preventable diseases, pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria, caused 43% of all deaths in children under five years old (ABC, News Initiative, 2012).
  • The avian flu, SARS, and drug-resistant tuberculosis are illnesses that threaten US security and health despite the fact that they are most commonly found in other parts of the world. 

Finally, global health inequalities also indirectly affect us as individuals by decreasing the global productivity level and weakening the world’s workforce and economy. Although the term “global health” may at first appear distant and obscure, there are clear links to international humanitarianism and safety.

What Still Needs to be Done?

Improve access to basic necessities such as preventative health care, clean water, and nutritious food to reduce deaths, increase productivity, and empower communities.

Acknowledge, understand, and address issues of structural violence. People in all corners of the world should explore their personal involvement in issues of structural violence. If they feel so compelled, they should act on their involvement with the goal of becoming more informed and productive global citizens.

Eradicate more infectious diseases!  Tuberculosis, HIV, polio, and similar diseases, if wiped from the face of the earth, could no longer disempower, weaken, wound, or kill individuals.

Global health is just that: global. Trends should be examined at the local level and understood in their global context. Whether interventions provide short-term relief or long-term solutions, local realities must be respected and appreciated to allow for sustainable improvements in global health.

Our Approach

To most effectively examine global health, we have elected to focus on four case studies: polio in Pakistan, reproductive rights in Brooklyn, cholera in Haiti, and diabetes among Native Americans and have chosen to examine global health through the lens of structural violence. Each of the four case studies we highlight is the direct result of larger structural trends, institutions, and oppression.

Each news analysis will focus on a different aspect of media coverage to provide a comprehensive analysis when looked at in total. Career biographies will showcase a single anthropologist invested in his or her respective issue and will include personal histories, professional accomplishments, and career paths. Finally, each anthropological analysis will compare the media’s coverage of each casestudy and the anthropologist’s ethnographic studies as well as convey our own analysis of the casestudy using our anthropological lens of choice: structural violence.