Global Health in the 21st Century

Andrea Gittleman, Guest Contributor

We like to believe we are in control of our health, but well-being isn't simply in the hands of the individual. It is influenced by economic, social, and political factors as well. In Global Health in the 21st Century: The Globalization of Disease and Wellness authors (and doctors) Debra and David DeLaet explore how policy decisions can impact health outcomes in both constructive and destructive ways.

The relationship between poverty and health is complex. In Latin American and the Caribbean, many poor people living in rural communities must travel long distances to reach a health care facility. Even when a facility is close to home, access to services is limited by one's inability to afford the cost of care. One's ability to maintain good health is compromised when critical services and information are out of reach.

Complicating matters further, poor health and poverty reinforce each other since managing illness can take a significant financial toll. A medical condition can prevent a person from being able to work and treatment can be prohibitively expensive. The solution does not only lie within the hands of the individual; it requires the support of governments and civil society.

Global Health in the 21st Century demonstrates the ways good governance can facilitate positive health outcomes, particularly for those living in a developing countries. The DeLaets use HIV/AIDS as an example. Medical advances and prevention awareness campaigns have drastically improved outcomes for many people in wealthy countries who are either living with or vulnerable to HIV infection. But millions in poorer nations still can't access the lifesaving technologies that have the potential to save their lives.

Increasing health standards is important not only for those within a country's borders, but also for people worldwide. In our modern age of increasing globalization, the impact of national policies does not remain within the nation. The social, political, and economic conditions in one location directly effect people's health in another.

Here is an example: industrial farming and government incentives in the United States have increased the production of commodity corn – a crop that is used for animal feed and not human consumption. The widespread availability of corn for meat-producing cows has allowed the meat industry in the US to grow substantially, changing the American diet and creating environmental hazards that contribute to climate change. This is just one instance of how policy decisions in one country create a lasting impact worldwide.

Global Health in the 21st Century makes a strong case that health advocates must take a comprehensive approach to effectively address the causes and consequences of global health challenges. Policy decisions must target the myriad forces that act upon a given health issue, not simply treat the issue by itself. Interventions must be multifaceted and address related issues, including women's rights, economic empowerment, and improvements to education. Improving health outcomes is not the sole responsibility of global health advocates; it is the responsibility we all have to each other as global citizens.

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