Global Health Issues, Challenges and Trends
What is global health? Global health focuses on the health needs of people around the world. It has a medical but also a political dimension. If you were to define global health as a field of study, it draws on a variety of disciplines, from economics, environmental science, epidemiology, sociology, and many others.
Global health takes up problems that are obviously medical, such as how parasites impact farmers in tropical regions. But it also considers larger questions, such as how income inequality influences health outcomes.
Researchers from around the world work together to improve global health. The World Health Organization (WHO) is one of the most important international agencies for global health. It was established in 1948 and today brings together more than 150 countries to address global health challenges and trends.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GLOBAL HEALTH
So what is global health and why is global health important? Global health is important because our world has become interconnected, and our health as individual human beings is influenced by global health issues. The increase in global trade and travel in recent decades has provided benefits, but there are also related problems. These take the form of infectious diseases and pandemics, such as COVID-19, but also other trends, such as non-communicable diseases in wealthier countries related to obesity.
GLOBAL HEALTH TRENDS
There is no single list of global health issues. The WHO lists 13 health global health challenges, but six cover the most important trends.
1. Noncommunicable diseases
As deaths from infectious diseases have fallen, non-communicable diseases have become leading causes of death. Cancer, heart disease, and conditions related to obesity have proved difficult challenges even to the best health systems. Meanwhile, cancer has become a leading cause of death in countries with high levels of pollution and relatively long life expectancy.
2. Infectious disease and pandemics
Infectious diseases do not respect national borders, as was illustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, politics, development policies, and damage to the environment also play a role. Pandemics can also show gaps in preparation and containment. Many other infectious diseases have been killers for decades, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, Ebola, and influenza.
3. Food supplies
Hunger and starvation remain a global health problem, despite significant improvement in food security over recent decades. Even in wealthier countries, natural disasters can expose political and economic inequalities, and infrastructure is strained by growth and environmental change. Human beings rely on only a handful of animal and plant species for most of their calories, and these food supplies face an array of threats. Threats to food supplies include diseases that infect livestock, invasive pests, loss of genetic diversity, and climate change.
4. Environmental factors
The environment influences the global health definition in a variety of ways. Some scientists believe the virus that causes COVID-19 originally crossed over from a wild animal, partly because of human encroachment on what was once wilderness. Ebola and HIV also emerged from animals in crossover infections. As people spread more into formerly wild areas and come into contact with previously isolated animals, new infectious diseases may emerge. Thus, protecting the wilderness from development can also protect human beings.
Environmental pollution also impacts human health, and pollution released by one country can spread across national borders. Polluted air causes illness and millions of early deaths each year, especially in urban areas of Asia. Polluted water can poison people and animal life alike.
There is also cross-specialty research into the health impacts caused by climate change. As temperatures grow warmer, tropical diseases are reaching new areas, impacting the health of patients in areas once free of the disease.
Some countries have advanced healthcare systems that are affordable and available to all patients. Other parts of the world, especially less wealthy countries, have less developed healthcare systems, and millions of people struggle to access care. Lack of access to healthcare, whether for financial or other reasons, contributes to millions of premature deaths each year.
6. Healthcare in war zones
There are growing numbers of attacks against healthcare workers. International law forbids attacking healthcare workers or facilities, but the WHO recorded more than 300 such attacks in a recent report. Health care providers are sometimes deliberately attacked, and even hospitals have been bombed.
Lasting conflicts often displace thousands or even millions of people, who may be crowded into refugee camps, where infectious diseases can spread rapidly. International organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, the WHO, and the United Nations (UN) work to provide healthcare to refugees and others whose health has been impacted by conflict.
THE FUTURE OF GLOBAL HEALTH
Global health issues will only grow more important in coming years, as countries and economies around the world become more connected. Growing wealth and trade has the potential to make important improvements to human health, but there are also new threats. New infectious diseases and stubborn chronic conditions will present challenges for many years to come, but doctors and scientists also work together globally. Working together, they dedicate their lives to improving global health.
If you are passionate about current health issues going on in the world and want to aid in the wellness of those around you, a career in medicine may be for you! Start your journey toward a rewarding career by applying to the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.