Health Science: Public Health

Course Overview

Units at a glance

Global Health: Those two words are large enough on their own, but together, they create a wide, almost-impossible scope for a healthcare worker. How can one person ever hope to care for the entire world? Fortunately, it isn’t up to individuals working alone; this task requires that national and regional healthcare systems work together for the improvement of everyone’s health. It’s easy enough now for people to pack up and travel across the planet; and diseases do the same thing. Only through coordination and cooperation can we hope to offer quality healthcare to everyone.

Different countries and regions have different burdens of disease, and even within the same country or neighborhood, the health of individual people varies widely. Why are there such great variances in personal health? What causes them? While some of these differences are influenced by biological distinctions, many are a byproduct of sociological systems humans have created. To understand why health, access to healthcare, and motivation for treatment varies across the globe, we have to look more closely at the systems that are creating these differences.

Once countries accept that they are responsible for providing healthcare to their residents, they have to decide how they will provide it and who will pay for it. Healthcare systems are the result of these decisions, and they vary greatly from country to country. Everyone wants access to quality healthcare without great risk to their savings account, but some health-system models are friendlier to the pocketbook than others. Comparing the different systems of countries gives a clear view of national priorities and helps us to appreciate their concerns.

Where you are matters to your health. Your location on this planet—from the country you live in, down to the nitty-gritty of what part of your city you live in, to where you go to work or school, and how you travel to get there—all impact your health to a degree. While biological and social factors have stronger, more immediate, impacts on a person’s health, we can’t leave out an environmental analysis because, like it or not, we are one with our environment, in sickness and in health.

Infectious diseases really play the bad guys in the global health scenario. They are caused by pathogens invading our space and making us sick. This means that they are completely avoidable, if we could only isolate ourselves from all possible infectious materials and organisms. The problem is that we are social people; we interact. And as we interact, we exchange all kinds of things, from the visible to the invisible. One would hope that if we could just put some really good laws and public service announcements in place, we could rid the world of infectious disease. Too bad global health isn’t as easy as that.

There is a whole other category of diseases that are not passed from person to person. Noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, are often the delayed result of a number of preventable lifestyle choices. Though they used to be slow-moving and would show up in late adulthood, noncommunicable diseases are taking over as the major causes of death worldwide and are affecting younger and younger people. To understand these trends, we have to look at how economic forces and other motivating factors have become obstacles to healthy, lower-risk lifestyles.

Are you itching to see what is being done about all these global health problems? A huge focus in global health is on providing universal access to clean water and safe sanitation. Through a combination of education, behavior modification, and infrastructure creation projects, households and communities experience a significant drop in infectious disease incidence. And when people are less sick, they have more energy to improve their lives, which is an all-around win for households and societies in general.

No matter whether you live in a place with no farm stands nearby or right next to a giant supermarket, a primary human concern is finding something to eat. Worldwide, people are struggling with eating well. Some people cannot get access to foods that provide enough energy and nutrients to keep them strong and healthy, so they lose what little reserves their bodies have. Other people have plenty of food options and select foods that do not supply the right kind of energy and nutrients, so instead of gaining muscle and strength, they gain fat. Proper eating habits directly contribute to personal health; therefore, food quality, food access, and food systems are important considerations in global healthcare.

Women’s bodies can do amazing things. They can become a home for a fetus to develop within during pregnancy. Afterward, like other mammals, women’s milk becomes a food source for their young. Each step of an infant’s developmental process up until they are weaned off breastmilk is directly influenced by the health of the mother. Even after weaning, young children are utterly dependent on their caretakers to ensure that they have the things they need to be healthy and strong. From a global health perspective, taking care of mothers and children at this vulnerable time of pregnancy and early childhood helps to ensure the overall survival and flourishing of humans.

Whether you’re a chef, a mechanic, an Olympic athlete, or a pilot, having the proper tools makes your work a whole lot easier, not to mention safer. And better tools definitely yield better results. Healthcare is no different. Healthcare professionals need proper devices to diagnose and treat their patients, not to mention research better methods of performing their services. Limit a healthcare professional’s tools, and you lose lives. Technology can do a lot for improving global health.

As a medical researcher and innovator, you create clinical trials to test your ideas. These studies might lead to new drugs, devices, or other therapeutics that improve people’s lives. That’s the positive side of research. But before a drug makes it onto the market, a lot of decisions are made about what disease to focus on and how to create and test the drug. These decisions are part of clinical trial planning and must follow certain guidelines to make sure everyone is being treated fairly and with respect.

You’ve got the keys to the castle now! With the Sustainable Development Goals in your pocket, and all the case studies you’ve read from around the world, not to mention the developing list of careers contributing to different aspects of healthcare and the analytical framework to use when looking at health-related interventions, you’ve got all that you need to take the next step and become a global-health worker.

Course Highlights

Explore how healthcare systems and inequity play a role in global health.
Learn about communicable and non-communicable diseases, and how global health workers make a difference in their prevention.
Learn about programs in countries around the world to solve global health problems using handwashing, nutrition, and maternal and child health.
Explore careers in global health, and learn the education required, typical salaries, and more.

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