It’s been a rather hectic week as I’ve had the honour of discussing several topics very close to me. From antibiotic alternatives in agriculture to the concept of how microbes may control our moods, it’s been a combination of hard work and, as always, joy.
I’ve also been faced with a slight conundrum. Many people have Emailed me recently asking for advice on choosing products. I’ve been reluctant to mention any brands in the public forum and have my reasons. I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post and the difficulty of being a spokesperson for microbes.
Until then, I want to introduce you to another incredible person.
I met Caity earlier this month while she was taking some time away from her work in Sweden. She is a global health expert and quickly becoming a leader in this field. She is part of a weekly program known as This Week in Global Health (TWIGH) and strives each week to bring the latest information on the health of humanity to the rest of the world.
When we spoke, she brought up a rather curious concept. What is in a name when it comes to a topic. We went over a number of different philosophical, psychological and yes, sciPOP ideas and came up with a few ideas. I asked her if she would put her thoughts down for this blog and she agreed.
If you want to follow Caity, you can find her on Twitter and also at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. I’m sure after reading her post, you may have questions and also some ideas of your own to share.
And now…Caity Jackson…
A new year means a new you!
Well, that is what we are meant to believe. A new haircut, a new outfit, a new diet, a new workout, heck, bring on a new name!
Okay, this isn’t about changing the words on your identification card. This is about changing something much more robust…the way we look at the health of humanity.
Health is one of the top priorities on most new year resolution lists, and rightly so! And aside from personal health, there are many other different types of health: public health, community health, natural health, and so on.
But have you heard of global health? How about international health? What about universal health (gotta think about the aliens, you know)?
Think about it. It has a logo thanks to the World Health Organization…
…yet, what do we call this overarching concept?
As we venture into 2015, we have a wider view of health thanks in part to a few diseases, a few disasters and the occasional blight of reason. But when it comes to giving this concept of worldly health a name, what should we call it? After all, an accurate name or term must elicit the right emotion, the right action, and as sciPOP dictates, be catchy too!
So let’s take a look at the options.
The term global health is postulated to be just one of many in a line of evolving words used to conceptualize the health of all. Where did it come from? Well, academic course naming trends and article keywords point to the transition to this from what was previously ‘international health.’ Of course, we still hear people calling this field of study International Public Health, Tropical Medicine, or Public Health just applied to a larger population.
It may seem like a game of semantics but when one considers that ‘most of the (Gates) foundation’s resources go to global health issues’ and the annual budget of is in the range of 3.2 billion to 3.6 billion dollars, you can see the right name is paramount.
So, what is in a name? Is there a vast difference between international and global health?
Now whether you are a ‘global’ fan or an ‘international’ fan, both arguably mean the same thing: health of the population of the world. Yet, as with any attempt to define a large subject with one word, it can get, well, testy. Some have argued that the move is needed from a word that in it has a direct depiction of borders (inter-nation) to a word that has a holistic and all-encompassing (global). After all, this is in essence how we view health. I would argue however that this shows a trend in how we view the manifestation of health.
Then there is the issue of optics. International health has been suggested to have an image of a rich country helping a poor country. Although for those of us in the richer countries, this sounds familiar. But health isn’t about helping; it’s about doing. If all countries do not play a significant role, it’s doomed to fail. So, we need to be sure the word doesn’t cause the wrong image. In contrast, global health proposes an image where everyone suffers the same risks of poor health and the same benefits of healthcare regardless of where you live.
Picture the world 50+ years ago, the whole world. Try and think about what your city might have looked like, what your country looked like, what the other side of the world looked like. There was definitely a lot more contrast between neighbouring cities and countries, especially far-flung nations. Therefore the fruits and goods of Panama were hardly going to pop up unexpectedly in Bangladesh, let alone the Panamanian infectious diseases or lifestyle habits.
Now fast-forward 50 years. If you go to the far reaches of the world, you may still find some creature comforts of home, like a certain brand of pop soda. Commercial entities have managed to get their product on shelves in nearly every nook and cranny of the world (bar the Brazilian rainforest…they are really slacking in distribution there). The globalization of the world brought an unseen feeling of closeness to our vast planet, increasing our connectivity in ways our grandparents wouldn’t have imagined.
Now what if instead of a soda can, we had access to health options, from care to promotion to products like hand sanitizers and pharmaceuticals? In your view, which one would be better to have? One makes you feel good for a few minutes while the other may keep you happy throughout your life.
This concept of a planetary access to health is without a doubt holistic and I think accurately describes the current situation. But perhaps the best way to see this is through the eyes of public health officials. For them, the rise of infections such as Ebola, MERS, HIV as well as chronic ailments including diabetes, heart disease, and chronic illnesses offer some perfect examples of how similar our health problems are, despite the great distance and fixed borders between us. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ anymore and every nation’s action has ripple effects outside of their borders.
Now take one last point into consideration. Although humans have drawn lines on maps to distinguish nationalities, health has never seen borders. No disease comes to the border of France and Germany and says, ‘ok guys, we stop here, we’re just going to stay in one country!’. But with the frequent flying and global distribution chains, the ability for anything to get anywhere in the world is no longer a question of how, but how quickly, and this concept means an incredible challenge for all members of the planet.
From these points, I for one am in the ‘global health’ camp. Here’s why:
I believe that a small thing like a word may change the way we view health on a global scale. The current Ebola epidemic (yes, it is still ongoing despite the lack of media attention in Western nations) has shown us most recently, but there have been a plethora of examples in the past that have shown how a health risk anywhere in the world is most definitely a health risk for all (think SARS and MERS and avian flu for example).
Apart from diseases classified as infectious or contagious, 60% of all deaths globally in 2008 were due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and 80% of these deaths occurred in low, and middle-income countries, showing how poor eating habits and low level of exercise in our Western lifestyle are also contagious. I would be thrilled to see this change in terms encourage policy modification and reshape the way we view the world and our health in it.
Maybe it is just a name though, as Shakespeare famously wrote ‘What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ Does either term illicit a reaction from your thoughts? Do they differ in terms of the emotional response or images they suggest? Hmm…
So, you know where I stand. Where do you see the future of health for all? Is it global health? International health? Perhaps there’s a name that might make everything even more homogeneous. Let me know your thoughts.