Whither Global Health?

February 16, 2011

In preparation for a session that will be discussing global health trends, I have been thinking about how the field has changed in the past decade.  Some of the trends I have identified include:

1. Issues have become more integrated.  In the 1990’s there were issue specific conferences – Population (1994, Cairo), “Women’s” issues (Beijing, 1995) etc… In 2000 many health issues such as maternal and child health became integrated into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  We seem to be moving in the direction of realizing that everything is connected and solutions need to take those connections into consideration.

2. Medical and health care professionals have developed more collaborative projects with colleagues around the world.  Although organizations like the World Medical Association, and the International Pediatric Association have existed for decades, recent years have seen more informal collaborations and new organizations such as Surgeons Overseas . As medical and health care professionals are traveling and communicating widely, increasingly the lines between ‘domestic’ and ‘international/global’ activity are blurring.

3. Growing medical working shortages. Shortages of trained personnel are a problem worldwide, but this map shows how severe the shortages are in areas of the world such as Africa: Physicians working. These shortages have moved attention towards collaborative initiatives and a focus on community workers and traditional attendants.  Partners in Health explains one example: PIH Model for Accompaniment

4. Technology and social media is easing the exchange of information. Technology has led to the ease in sharing in many fields.  In health examples include the dissemination of more manuals such as this one by Global Health Council, Global Health Advocacy Manual and more discussion of  technology’s value to the profession: “What social media offers to health professionals and citizens”.

5.  There is a greater public focus on global health issues. The increase in global health related blogs (see a partial list below) and more attention in the more mainstream media such as The Poverty Matters Blog (in the Guardian in the UK) and ABC news series (on TV in the U.S), both sponsored by the Gates Foundation, are some examples of this. . And there is more discussion about “What makes people care about global health?”

6.  A greater decentralizing and a need for flexible decision-making is calling into question even venerable organizations such as World Health Organization (WHO) vis a vis more flexible alliances such as GAVIA. For example, it was interesting to note that when the USAID Administrator spoke recently about the Obama Administration’s Global Health initiatives, he referred to GAVIA more than WHO. Two articles that discuss this further: 1) How to Keep the WHO relevant and 2) Health Systems Strengthening: Wither the World Bank?

7. More cross-sector partnerships – the lines are also not as clearly drawn between the private, public and NGO sectors as they were.  Although these partnerships are not without risk, with an increasing focus on social responsibility, social innovation and social entrepreneurship avenues have opened for more effective cross-sector partnerships. These range from larger government programs such as The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DANIDA) Private Sector Development Programme and U.S. Agency for Development private sector partnership program (used for Helping Babies Breathe which I’ve previously written about on this blog), to a diversity of innovations at the local level 42 Extremely Affordable Global Health Innovations.  A multinational conference in 2005 discussed this cooperation further.

I would be very interested in your comments on these trends, or hearing of other trends you may have observed…

Some Global Health Blogs