The Collegian
Tuesday, December 01, 2020


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Fighting for global health

With the advance in information technologies, international travel and business, our world is becoming an increasingly interdependent place.

Each of the components of public health, economic growth and local environment influences the others, creating a global network. This intricate system profoundly affects each of us.

Today countries are increasingly reliant on one another for health security.

The only possible way for a government to ensure the well-being of its citizens is to help ensure the well-being of all humans, including those in extremely poor countries.

People in such countries are unable to pay for food, medicine or vaccines.

They are unreliable trading partners and are trapped in a constant life of debt and misery. In short, as Lawrence Gostin wrote, "Rich countries should care because global health serves their national interests and helping the most disadvantaged is ethically the right thing to do."

There is a market inefficiency in global health -- many people are willing to help and many people need some sort of assistance, but often there are no means to link the two.

An exciting opportunity to connect the two parties is provided by, an organization harnessing the Internet to provide microloans (usually around $25 per lender) across the world.

According to Rick Mayes, a public health professor at the University of Richmond: "Micro-lending has emerged over the last decade as one of the most encouraging models of linking those who want to help with those who need help.

Organizations such as Kiva are exciting and innovative and helpful, but they cannot grow to massive size quickly."

An obstacle to fighting poverty is the preconceived notion of an abrupt division between the Western world and the developing world -- two poles of economic extremes with almost no countries falling in between.

That may have been closer to the truth 50 years ago, but today there exists a continuum of countries in various stages of economic development.

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Some of the so-called "developing countries" have made a great leap forward, reaching levels of a developed, Western economy. Others have been trapped in political instabilities, wars, diseases and natural disasters.

Labeling all these countries as developing prevents us from understanding the subtleties of the challenges different countries are facing and recognizing their success.

Another unfortunate consequence of this artificial divide is that it creates false impressions: The sufferings of the rest of the world are tragic, but they might never get out of the poverty trap.

After all, international aid has been around for 60 years, yet none seems to make it to extremely poor regions.

We fail to appreciate the remarkable advances that many countries have achieved in the last 50 to 60 years rising out of extreme poverty to reach near-Western standards. These are solid examples illustrating that progress in public health and economic growth is absolutely possible.

For instance, since the 1920s, Chile has greatly improved its public health with the introduction of antibiotics, proper sanitation and vaccines, leading to an average life expectancy of 78 years.

However, achieving such results is not easy and there are daunting challenges to overcome.

There still exist places where diseases, war and famine are causing extreme suffering.

Yet even these extremely poor regions can make incredible progress to better health and sanitation, provided other countries and organizations help them gain momentum.

In order to understand what the right push is for each specific region in various countries, we need to learn more about its characteristics and unique environment.

We cannot continue merging, for example, Egypt and South Africa (among other countries), into the unifying term "Africa."

Understanding the unique micro-climate in each region will help both local entrepreneurs and international aid focus on emergent issues, learn about their root causes and attempt to solve them using a bottom-up approach and collaboration.

We care about global health and economic development because it is possible, it works and its effects are extraordinary, transforming the lives of millions.

Its outcome is one of the most important and fascinating issues of our time.

Health and economic improvement will only yield great results if we believe in them and understand the challenges and accomplishments met by countries, leave prejudice behind and be flexible to times of great change.

Whatever the reasons, the term "global health" has never been more inclusive, uniting all humans and understanding this inclusiveness has never been of such great importance.

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