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Global health

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Global health

Headquarters of the Geneva, Switzerland.

Global health is the health of populations in a global context;[1] it has been defined as "the area of study, research and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving equity in health for all people worldwide".[2] Problems that transcend national borders or have a global political and economic impact are often emphasized.[3] Thus, global health is about worldwide health improvement, reduction of disparities, and protection against global threats that disregard national borders.[4] Global health is not to be confused with international health, which is defined as the branch of public health focusing on developing nations and foreign aid efforts by industrialized countries.[5]

The predominant agency associated with global health (and international health) is the UNICEF, World Food Programme, and the World Bank. The United Nations has also played a part with declaration the Millennium Development Goals.[6]


International health employs several perspectives that focus on the determinants and distribution of health in international contexts:

Both individuals and organizations working in the domain of global health often face many questions regarding ethical and human rights. Critical examination of the various causes and justifications of health inequities is necessary to the success of proposed solutions.


The 19th century held major discoveries in malaria and tuberculosis were identified in 1880 and 1882, respectively. The 20th century saw the development of preventive and curative treatments for many diseases, including the BCG vaccine (for tuberculosis) and penicillin in the 1920s. The eradication of smallpox, with the last naturally occurring case recorded in 1977, raised hope that other diseases could be eradicated as well.

Important steps were taken towards global cooperation in health with the formation of the [8] The WHO published its Model List of Essential Medicines, and the 1978 Alma Ata declaration underlined the importance of primary health care.[9]

At a United Nations Summit in 2000, member nations declared eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which reflected the major challenges facing human development globally, to be achieved by 2015.[10] The declaration has been matched by unprecedented global investment by donor and recipient countries. The UN report released on July 2, 2012 revealed that several MDG targets have been met ahead of the 2015 timeline, though progress on some goals are severely lagging.[11]


Measures of global health include disability-adjusted life year (DALY), quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), and mortality rate.[12]

Disability-adjusted life years

Disability-adjusted life years per 100,000 people in 2004.
  No data
  Less than 9,250
  Over 80000

The DALY is a summary measure that combines the impact of illness, disability, and mortality by measuring the time lived with disability and the time lost due to premature mortality. One DALY can be thought of as one lost year of "healthy" life. The DALY for a disease is the sum of the years of life lost due to premature mortality and the years lost due to disability for incident cases of the health condition.

Quality-adjusted life years

QALYs combine expected survival with expected quality of life into a single number: if an additional year of healthy life is worth a value of one (year), then a year of less healthy life is worth less than one (year). QALY calculations are based on measurements of the value that individuals place on expected years of survival. Measurements can be made in several ways: by techniques that simulate gambles about preferences for alternative states of health, with surveys or analyses that infer willingness to pay for alternative states of health, or through instruments that are based on trading off some or all likely survival time that a medical intervention might provide in order to gain less survival time of higher quality.[12]

Infant and child mortality

Infant mortality and child mortality for children under age 5 are more specific than DALYs or QALYs in representing the health in the poorest sections of a population, and are thus especially useful when focusing on health equity.[13]


Morbidity measures include incidence rate, prevalence, and cumulative incidence, with incidence rate referring to the risk of developing a new health condition within a specified period of time. Although sometimes loosely expressed simply as the number of new cases during a time period, morbidity is better expressed as a proportion or a rate.

Health conditions

The diseases and health conditions targeted by global health initiatives are sometimes grouped under "diseases of poverty" versus "diseases of affluence", although the impact of globalization is increasingly blurring the lines between the two.

Respiratory infections

Infections of the respiratory tract and middle ear are major causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide.[14] Some respiratory infections of global significance include tuberculosis, measles, influenza, and pneumonias caused by pneumococci and Haemophilus influenzae. The spread of respiratory infections is exacerbated by crowded conditions, and poverty is associated with more than a 20-fold increase in the relative burden of lung infections.[15]

Diarrheal diseases

Diarrhea is the second most common cause of child mortality worldwide, responsible for 17% of deaths of children under age 5.[16] Poor sanitation can increase transmission of bacteria and viruses through water, food, utensils, hands, and flies. Dehydration due to diarrhea can be effectively treated through oral rehydration therapy with dramatic reductions in mortality.[17][18] Important nutritional measures include the promotion of breastfeeding and zinc supplementation. While hygienic measures alone may be insufficient for the prevention of rotavirus diarrhea,[19] it can be prevented by a safe and potentially cost-effective vaccine.[20]

Maternal health

Maternal health clinic in Afghanistan (source: Merlin)

World Health Report, poor maternal conditions are the fourth leading cause of death for women worldwide, after HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.[22] Most maternal deaths and injuries can be prevented, and such deaths have been largely eradicated in the developed world.[23] Targets for improving maternal health include increasing the number of deliveries accompanied by skilled birth attendants.[24]

68 low-income countries tracked by the WHO- and UNICEF-led collaboration Countdown to 2015 are estimated to hold for 97% of worldwide maternal and child deaths.[25]


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is transmitted through unprotected sex, unclean needles, blood transfusions, and from mother to child during birth or lactation. Globally, HIV is primarily spread through sexual intercourse. The infection damages the immune system, leading to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and eventually, death. Antiretroviral drugs prolong life and delay the onset of AIDS by minimizing the amount of HIV in the body.


Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease caused by the parasites of the genus Plasmodium. Symptoms may include fever, headaches, chills, and nausea. Each year, there are approximately 500 million cases of malaria worldwide, most commonly among children and pregnant women in developing countries.[26] The use of insecticide-treated bednets is a cost-effective way to reduce deaths from malaria, as is prompt artemisin-based combination therapy, supported by intermittent preventive therapy in pregnancy.


In 2010, about 104 million children were underweight, and undernutrition contributes to about one third of child deaths around the world.[27] (Undernutrition is not to be confused with malnutrition, which refers to poor proportion of food intake and can thus refer obesity.)[28] Undernutrition impairs the immune system, increasing the frequency, severity, and duration of infections (including measles, pneumonia, and diarrhea). Infection can further contribute to malnutrition.[29] Deficiencies of micronutrient, such as vitamin A, iron, iodine, and zinc, are common worldwide and can compromise intellectual potential, growth, development, and adult productivity.[30][31][32][33][34][35] Interventions to prevent malnutrition include micronutrient supplementation, fortification of basic grocery foods, dietary diversification, hygienic measures to reduce spread of infections, and the promotion of breastfeeding.

Violence against women

Violence against women has been defined as: "physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family and in the general community, including battering, sexual abuse of children, dowry-related violence, rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women, forced prostitution and violence perpetrated or condoned by the state."[36] In addition to causing injury, violence may increase "women’s long-term risk of a number of other health problems, including chronic pain, physical disability, drug and alcohol abuse, and depression".[37]

Although statistics can be difficult to obtain as many cases go unreported, it is estimated that one in every five women faces some form of violence during her lifetime, in some cases leading to serious injury or even death.[38] Risk factors for being a perpetrator include low education, past exposure to child maltreatment or witnessing violence between parents, harmful use of alcohol, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality.[39] Equality of women has been addressed in the Millennium development goals.

Chronic disease

Approximately 80% of deaths linked to non-communicable diseases occur in developing countries.[40] Increases in refugee urbanization, has led to a growing number of people diagnosed with chronic noncommunicable diseases.[41]

In September 2011, the United Nations is hosting its first General Assembly Special Summit on the issue of non-communicable diseases.[42] Noting that non-communicable diseases are the cause of some 35 million deaths each year, the international community is being increasingly called to take measures for the prevention and control of chronic diseases and mitigate their impacts on the world population, especially on women, who are usually the primary caregivers.

For example, the rate of type 2 diabetes, associated with obesity, has been on the rise in countries previously plagued by hunger. In low-income countries, the number of individuals with diabetes is expected to increase from 84 million to 228 million by 2030.[43] Obesity, a preventable condition, is associated with numerous chronic diseases, including cardiovascular conditions, stroke, certain cancers, and respiratory disease. About 16% of the global burden of disease, measured as DALYs, has been accounted for by obesity.[43]

Health interventions

Global interventions for improved child health and survival include the promotion of breastfeeding, zinc supplementation, vitamin A fortification, salt iodization, hygiene interventions such as hand-washing, vaccinations, and treatments of severe acute malnutrition.[24][44][45] The Global Health Council suggests a list of 32 treatments and health interventions that could potentially save several million lives each year.[46]

Many populations face an "outcome gap", which refers to the gap between members of a population who have access to medical treatment versus those who do not. Countries facing outcome gaps lack sustainable infrastructure.[47] In Guatemala, a subset of the public sector, the Programa de Accessibilidad a los Medicamentos ("Program for Access to Medicines"), had the lowest average availability (25%) compared to the private sector (35%). In the private sector, highest- and lowest-priced medicines were 22.7 and 10.7 times more expensive than international reference prices respectively. Treatments were generally unaffordable, costing as much as 15 days wages for a course of the antibiotic ceftriaxone.[48] The public sector in Pakistan, while having access to medicines at a lower price than international reference prices, has a chronic shortage of and lack of access to basic medicines.[49]

Journalist Laurie Garrett argues that the field of global health is not plagued by a lack of funds, but that more funds do not always translate into positive outcomes. The problem lies in the way these funds are allocated, as they are often disproportionately allocated to alleviating a single disease.[50]

In its 2006 World Health Report, the WHO estimated a shortage of almost 4.3 million doctors, midwives, nurses, and support workers worldwide, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.[51]

See also


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  45. ^ Bryce J, Black RE, Walker N, Bhutta ZA, Lawn JE, Steketee RW; Black; Walker; Bhutta; Lawn; Steketee (2005). "Can the world afford to save the lives of 6 million children each year?". Lancet 365 (9478): 2193–200.  
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  48. ^ Anson, Angela. "Availability, prices affordability of the World Health Organization’s essential medicines for children in Guatemala.". Retrieved 7 Apr 2014. 
  49. ^ "Prices, availability and affordability of medicines in Pakistan". Retrieved 7 Apr 2014. 
  50. ^ Garrett, Laurie (2007). "The Challenge of Global Health". Foreign Affairs. 
  51. ^ "The world health report 2006: working together for health". Geneva: World Health Organization. 

Further reading

External links

  • Global Health Initiative – free courses on the world's top diseases
  • (hosted by U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)
  • Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health
  • Roll Back Malaria – global partnership against malaria
  • Stop TB – global partnership against tuberculosis
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