"The failure to engage in the fight to anticipate, prevent, and ameliorate global health problems would diminish
America's stature in the realm of health and jeopardize our own
health, economy, and national security."
-The Institute of Medicine,
America’s Vital Interest in Global Health
When most people hear the words “global health,” they think of health problems that affect developing countries. While such problems are certainly a large part of the picture, they are not the whole picture.
What is Global Health?
Global health refers to health problems that transcend national borders—problems such as infectious and insect-borne diseases that can spread from one country to another. It also includes health problems that are of such magnitude that they have a global political and economic impact.
Global health refers to health problems that are best addressed by cooperative actions and solutions—solutions that involve more than one country. Because global health problems can move across national borders, countries can learn from one another’s experiences, both in how diseases spread and in how they can be treated and controlled. Cooperation across countries is essential to addressing those health problems that transcend borders. This includes helping other countries address their particular health care crises.
Global Health Matters
When people in the U.S. hear the term “global health,” most think of health problems specific to developing countries. But global health matters to everyone, not just to those living in developing countries. It is important that we address global health issues for the following reasons:
Humanitarian reasons: In 2005, an estimated 2.8 million people died from AIDS, the vast majority of them in developing countries. More than 15 million children have been orphaned as a result of AIDS. And more than 3 million people die annually from tuberculosis (TB) or malaria. Working to solve global health problems will help avert the needless suffering and preventable deaths of millions of adults and children.
Equity reasons: Roughly 90 percent of the world’s health care resources are spent on diseases that affect 10 percent of the world’s population. Working to solve global health problems will help ensure that money and resources are distributed more fairly across the globe.
Direct impact reasons: In an increasingly connected world, diseases can move as freely as people and products. Infectious diseases can easily cross national borders and pose immediate threats in the U.S.—diseases such as SARS, avian flu, and drug resistant TB. Working to solve global health problems includes addressing diseases that people in this country don’t usually think of as posing an immediate threat on our soil.
Indirect impact reasons: Global health matters to Americans for reasons that may not be immediately clear, but that are nevertheless very real. For example, rising incidences of diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB are increasing poverty and political instability in many countries. That in turn has political and economic consequences worldwide.
Working to address global health problems can help prevent civil strife in other countries. It can support economic stability and improve the quality of people’s lives. That can be good for U.S. security, our economy, and the way our country is perceived throughout the world.
The U.S. has the research capacity to take a leadership role in the effort to improve global health—and to have a positive impact on the lives of billions of people worldwide.
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What Is the Scope of the Challenge?
Health is the foundation for civil society, for social and cultural growth, for political stability, and for economic sustainability. Yet it is an area where large portions of the world are loosing ground. Several countries are seeing health measures such as life expectancy decline, despite the tremendous medical advances that have been made over the last few decades. In addition, health disparities between rich and poor nations are growing.
We are faced with pressing global health problems:
An estimated 4 million people worldwide are infected with HIV every year;
Out of an estimated 9 million cases of tuberculosis in 2004, nearly two million people died; and
More than 1 million people die annually from malaria.
Other diseases including dengue fever, cholera, and shigella receive less attention, but that are no less deadly. These so-called “neglected diseases” sicken and kill millions each year.
How Can the U.S. Address Global Health Challenges?
There are many ways the U.S. can address global health challenges. One of the key ways is by tackling diseases directly. That means developing diagnostic tests, preventive measures, treatments, and vaccines that target the world’s most pressing global health needs. This work includes conducting research to discover products and then moving those products into use. It also means training health care professionals who will practice in developing countries.
The goal of Families USA’s Global Health Initiative is to make research on global health issues a higher national priority. We do this by:
Increasing awareness of global health issues;
Advocating for more federal funding for global health research and training and for the development of products that target diseases in developing countries; and
Advocating for the most effective use of funds to discover and develop new medical interventions and bring them into use in the countries where they are needed most.
The U.S. has the capacity to take a leadership role in the effort to improve global health—and to have a positive impact on the lives of billions of people worldwide.
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