Public health requires global perspective

A global perspective on public health will be increasingly critical as this century progresses, according to a new editorial in the May 1, 2014 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The authors, David Hunter, Vincent L. Gregory Professor in Cancer Prevention at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, identify five trends that are pushing the world towards a convergence of common purpose in public health:

  • Lower birth rates and longer lives in most countries, and a reshaping of disease patterns from infectious to chronic;
  • The health consequences of globalized economies, including unhealthier lifestyles and the need for international disease-control;
  • Environmental threats from pollution and climate change;
  • Internationalization of medical knowledge and the globalization of the health care workforce;
  • The globalization of medical science.

“How we handle these five trends will do much to determine the quality of health and health services in the world in the coming decades,” the authors write. They compare the global health perspective to the environmental movement’s concept that local actions have global impact. “Although the individual patient encounter is a local event, and global health institutions may constitute a patchwork of entities, each patient encounter takes place in a global tapestry of influences that constitute ‘global public health.’”

Read NEJM editorial: Convergence to Common Purpose in Global Health