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Defining Global Health

The concept of global health has emerged over recent decades from numerous disciplines; this organic development means it can be difficult to define and differentiate from other spheres.


A key tenet of WGHUK is to be accessible and inclusive of anyone who identifies as working or studying in the field of global health. Whilst we therefore do not wish to exclude involvement on the basis of disagreement about what constitutes global health, it is undeniably useful to have a common frame of reference.


Perhaps the most widely accepted definition comes from Jeffrey Koplan and colleagues:


Global health is an area for study, research, and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving equity in health for all people worldwide. Global health emphasises transnational health issues, determinants, and solutions; involves many disciplines within and beyond the health sciences and promotes interdisciplinary collaboration; and is a synthesis of population-based prevention with individual-level clinical care.


Public Health England (PHE) defines global health as follows:


Global health is focused on improving health and achieving health equity for all people worldwide – meaning working towards the absence of avoidable, unfair, or remediable differences among groups of people. Many health issues and concerns transcend national boundaries and require collaboration between countries to address them.”


A seemingly subtle but significant distinctions to make is between ‘global’ and ‘international’ health. The latter generally refers to nations interacting with nations, whilst global focuses on issues that transcend borders and takes a holistic view of health determinants, irrespective of nationality or location.


It can be useful to think of global health as a set of values, rather than a strict, semantic interpretation. This is equally open to debate. We feel that the following four key values should inform our work, approach, and community in global health:


Equity and social justice within and across populations


Multi-sector collaboration and cohesive global governance


Approaches aligned with sustainability and action on climate breakdown


Engagement with political, corporate, and social determinants of health

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