Sarah Clarke (2nd place) – Why is Global Health important and how is it taught in medical school?

Sarah Clarke1

Sarah Clarke

Second place in the Manchester Global Health Competition 2014.

Sarah Clarke is a first year medical student at Manchester Medical school with an interest in global health, particularly simple interventions such as introducing safe water hygiene systems and effective sanitation methods.

The matter of global health covers a vast range of complex issues and challenges. Examples of some of the main health issues faced by global society today include the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the effort to eradicate measles, pneumonia in children under 5 years of age and the continual management of HIV and AIDS. Ultimately, global health is a responsibility for all. Everyone has a role in our global society: from preventing the spread of communicable diseases, to following and encouraging others to follow health-promoting behaviour.

Studying global health is more important today than ever. As medical knowledge continues to improve and develop, it is vital that we are able to share our knowledge with other healthcare systems to allow us to learn from experience and improve global health outcomes. Educating medical students is an important step in continuing this. As future doctors, we will be working in an ever-diversifying society and we will encounter people from all over the world who may have been directly or indirectly exposed to one or more of these issues.

The global health curriculum for medical students should be broad, reflecting the expanse of the subject. Concept-based learning about how real-life global health issues are addressed may be an effective way of teaching. Concepts may include:

  • making informed decisions using evidence-based medicine
  • emphasising that global needs must be addressed on a local scale first
  • addressing health inequalities
  • highlighting that prevention is better than cure
  • allowing students to research a global health problem of interest and carry out extended projects would likely reinforce this.

Teaching global health to medical students may also help us to challenge information, such as the misconceptions propagated by media coverage on Ebola. For example, 5177 people have died from Ebola since the current outbreak began according to the World Health Organisation, widely reported in the media. On the other hand, The Lancet recently stated that there were over 900,000 pneumonia-related deaths in children under 5 in 2013. Here, the magnitude of each issue is very different and connects to how we think about the availability of treatment options and how we consider the ethical implications of allocating resources.

Learning from the past is important in developing current strategies and in creating coping mechanisms for the future. It may also be important in generating the right questions to ask about global health issues, such as “how was this allowed to happen?”, and in turn allow us to explore what these issues have taught us about global health. As future doctors and potential policy makers, studying how global health issues are addressed whilst at medical school can surely only be beneficial. In the best case scenario, it will help us to learn from our past and current mistakes, to create a more efficient future to deal with the health problems – and find the solutions – for the benefit of our global community.

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