In today’s world, where there is extensive mobility of people across national barriers, the factors affecting the health of people across countries constitute a critical issue. The field of international health covers a wide array of factors and domains that define and affect the health of people in more than one country. These could have global health implications. They cover issues as diverse as infectious diseases, chronic diseases, environmental health and climate protection, health of vulnerable and displaced populations, equity and social justice, health care delivery systems, as well as public health policy and social determinants of health. Some infectious diseases that have historically been of international health interests include HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, polio, measles and Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Some infectious diseases that can be controlled by vaccination have seen drops in vaccination rates in certain countries and is a serious concern shared by public health experts. Dr. Clarence Clottey, a public health expert and primary care doctor, explains the importance of international health in our global society.
Global Health and Security
One goal shared by global health professionals is to contain and treat the occurrence of large outbreaks of disease, as well as preventing the spread of these diseases from country to country. Global health professionals also work to detect and report outbreaks of these diseases. They have built a responsive network that responds efficiently when a disease is detected, in collaboration with international entities such as the World Health Organization.
Many different health initiatives are being promoted today to prevent and contain some of these diseases. These range from immunization to maternal and child health. All of these initiatives have the potential to change lives for the better in countries around the world.
Vaccination efforts have been recently highlighted in the United States, Canada, and Europe due to a substantial number of parents who are skeptical about the benefits and safety of childhood vaccinations, especially for measles and chickenpox. There appears to be a resurgence of some of these diseases that had been effectively eliminated in, for instance, the United States, while other parts of the world still struggle to contain and eliminate these infectious diseases.
Polio, for example, is close to elimination worldwide, but many people in developing countries are infected each year. Global and International health professionals help to coordinate the delivery of the oral polio vaccine and support doctors and hospitals to treat and prevent the disease.
Maternal and Child Health
Public health professionals work with doctors and hospitals in developing countries to reduce that burden of illnesses among mothers and children and therefore reduce the maternal and child mortality. Maternal and Child mortality is highest in developing countries, however, of note, the United States has a relatively high rate of infant mortality compared to other industrialized nations. Most of the work toward supporting maternal and child health involves promoting access to care and proper prenatal care and safety in delivering babies.
Water, Food & Hygiene
Clean water is an essential component of healthy living, and access to clean water is an international health issue. Water-borne diseases like cholera still affect people in many developing countries. Global health organizations often work with local officials to ensure the safety of communal water supplies.
In addition to supporting access to good clean drinking water, international health professionals work with local governments and organizations to promote food security and food safety. Thus, promoting efforts to keep supplies of food adequate and safe. Additionally, many countries have customs and excise regulations to safeguard food entering and leaving their countries. This helps to curb the spread of foodborne diseases across many countries.
Hygienic practices and education, as well as good sanitation, have been critical in reducing and preventing water and foodborne illnesses. Global health supports initiatives to spread the word about proper hand washing with available safe water and proper disposal of waste materials.
HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis
Global health collaboration between governments, professionals, and agencies such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has introduced many different programs to help slow the spread of many diseases of international or global impact like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. These two disease epidemics were linked in certain populations because tuberculosis became the leading cause of death among HIV/AIDS patients. Antiretroviral medications were used to reduce patients’ viral loads while vigilance in identifying multi-drug resistance tuberculosis helped to manage the impact of the spread of tuberculosis better.
Insect-Borne and Parasitic Diseases
Malaria and other insect-borne and parasitic diseases continue to have a serious impact around the world. In international and global health, efforts continue to reduce the transmission of these diseases through the promotion of proper sanitation, access to clean water, proper use of insecticides, and appropriate water treatment.
Climate Change and Environmental Health
As the changing climate continues to unravel the earth’s ecosystems which were developed and stabilized over many millennia, scientists have warned about the dire consequences to our environment and our health. Man-made conditions and human activities in different parts of the globe now challenge the entire global landscape. The health and survival of the human race are ultimately being challenged. Dr. Clarence Clottey believes that joint international health activities can help mitigate some of the effects of environmental conditions on human health.
The Importance of International Health
Dr. Clarence Clottey touches on the importance of recognizing that health concerns in one country often parallel that in many other countries. The inter-relatedness of many factors that affect the health of populations are not limited by national and political boundaries. It, therefore, requires the concerted effort of people of all nations to work closely to address many of the contributory factors to disease and poor living conditions. A lot of global and international health initiatives focus on developing countries, but these activities also have a resonance with industrialized countries like the United States and Canada. Vigilance is necessary by all, to keep preventable diseases and conditions that have been on the decline for decades, from making a resurgence globally.
Addressing international health has benefits for all countries. However, many developing countries have fewer resources to address some of these challenges. Global organizations and those nation states with more abundant resources, need to play a role in helping to build capacity in those resource-poor countries. However, it will take that contribution of every country, no matter its geo-economic status, to build the international and global health system that would sustain the populations on our planet.