Global Health in a Nutshell

In an age where pathogens are emerging and spreading faster than ever before, global health is more important than ever. Yet the concept of global health remains misunderstood.

GHRP convened a special session at the 2019 Editorial Board meeting to discuss and promote an agreed definition of global health. What follows is a summary of that discussion.


There is no consensus on how to define global health. A definition for the field is essential as it guides research, policy making and practice. Several definitions have been proposed. Koplan et al describe global health as ‘the study, research and action that places a priority on improving the health of all people worldwide’. This is a useful definition, but lacks clarity as it has no clear goal and fails to emphasise the need for action.

Other definitions have a more limited scope, such as the one used by Kickbush: ‘global health refers to those health issues that transcend national boundaries and call for actions that address global forces that determine the health of populations’. This is too narrow as it excludes many important issues such as environmental pollution, climate change and economic inequality.


In order to promote global health, researchers need to understand and address the underlying factors of many diseases. These include a number of factors that are not directly related to infectious diseases, such as climate change, food insecurity and pollution.

Because global health encompasses a broad range of issues, it requires collaborations between multiple disciplines. This includes public health, medicine and other areas of science. It also involves the exchange of knowledge between nations.

Whether it’s the spread of COVID-19, antibiotic resistance or global pandemics, global health problems can have a huge impact on people and countries. Thankfully, researchers and organizations are working hard to prevent these issues. By doing so, they can make a difference in the lives of millions of people. This is why it’s important to “think globally, act locally” when it comes to global health.


Whether it’s stopping the spread of infectious diseases, or promoting wellness programs in developing countries, global health experts use a variety of tools to tackle the world’s most pressing health problems. No one group or individual can achieve global health solutions on their own, so it takes collaboration among different sectors and countries to reach practical and long-term goals.

Medical and public health professionals must be willing to reframe their research and practice with a global perspective. In an interconnected world, disease threats that start somewhere can quickly travel from country to country; and non-infectious diseases like obesity are a worldwide threat as well. The catchphrase “think globally, act locally” offers a useful framework for understanding global health.


As a discipline, global health focuses on global forces that affect the well-being of people. These include climate change, natural disasters, insufficient nutrition and food sources, poor education and employment, and lack of access to healthcare and medical treatments.

A shortage of nurses and other healthcare workers is one of the most pressing challenges facing many countries worldwide. The shortage of healthcare workers can lead to maldistribution, which is the misallocation of resources and skillsets among populations and geographical areas.

Kickbush defines global health as ‘those health issues that transcend national boundaries and governments. Those issues call for action on the global forces that determine people’s health’ (7). This definition has a broader scope and emphasizes the need for research and collaboration. It is a good starting point for understanding global health.

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