UF professor explores global health movement’s current popularity

The concept of global health first appeared in the scientific literature after World War II, but the past decade has brought an explosive growth in the number of publications and university programs on global health. Writing in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, Xinguang Chen, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the department of epidemiology, University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions and College of Medicine, examines the reasons for global health’s current popularity.

“A better understanding of what drives the current global health movement could inform higher education decision-makers on how to better direct the development of medical and health sciences,” Chen writes. “Such information is also needed for medical and public health education programs to adjust their teaching curricula to meet the current needs of society.”

Chen believes several forces are driving today’s global health movement, including the unevenly paced health development in many developing countries. Widespread communication technologies and economic globalization have increased awareness of glaring health disparities between nations.

“People from both developed and developing nations can now directly observe the differences they have learned from media and directly experience different health conditions, lifestyles, medical education, health systems, and medical, pharmaceutical, and health technologies,” he writes.

Developing a scientific conceptualization of global health has been challenging and there is no consensus on the definition of global health to date. Chen proposes a three-level conceptual framework: 1) Global health acts first as a guiding principle for efforts to improve people’s health, 2) Global health has become a branch of medical and health science, and 3) Global health is a scientific discipline that should focus on factors with a cross-cultural, cross-national or cross-regional scope; issues that are local, but could have global significance without proper management; and problems that can only be effectively addressed through international efforts.

Chen argues that the global health movement has the potential to lead to major changes in medical and health research, education and practice, as well as the role of governmental and non-governmental organizations in dealing with health issues.

“It is our hypothesis that just like in economic globalization, the global health movement will ultimately lead to a time of health globalization, when limited health resources are optimally allocated, people’s health is maximized, and health inequalities are minimized across the globe.”