What is global health?

Mukesh Kapila, CBE is Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at the University of Manchester. He has worked extensively with the UK Government, United Nations, World Health Organisation, and International Red Cross Red Crescent in global health, development, and diplomacy, and in crisis and conflict management & humanitarian affairs  He is also Special Representative of the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity, and Vice Chair of Nonviolent Peaceforce. He is the author of “Against A Tide Of Evil”

images copy

Global health is an increasingly fashionable term. But what does it mean?

The state of health we enjoy is driven by several primary drivers that shape the life choices, life styles, and life chances of populations, at home and abroad.  These include:

    • Demographic shifts that are the outcome of changing patterns of fertility and ageing
    • Migration including both voluntary and forced movement of people
    • Environmental changes generating climate change and disasters
    • Political economy choices driven by our preferred values and choices, and consequent levels of peace and security
    • International fairness in the set of rules that govern access and equity in the sharing global public goods

Accordingly, I define global health as the set of policies and practices that address the transnational health concerns flowing from globalisation.

This definition encompasses notions of both self and shared interests:

  • Tackling the consequences of the transnational flows of diseases, people, resources, knowledge, technologies, and ethical values
  • Managing interdependence and mutual protection against shared and transferred health risks that lie beyond the reach of national jurisdictions
  • Demonstrating moral responsibility by generating and sharing knowledge and resources that address health inequalities and promote better health at home and abroad.

The global in global health refers to the scope of the problems and not their location. Thus, although Manchester’s work in global health aims to help the poor and vulnerable in low and middle-income countries, it also benefits the people of Manchester. It does this through importing innovative technologies and good practices from elsewhere, as well as boosting motivation and providing leadership and skills development for Manchester health professionals at all levels. Furthermore, better understanding on how to operate overseas in resource poor environments where inequalities are so grossly evident creates a sympathetic awareness of the challenges of doing the same in Manchester.

In summary, global health cooperation is a necessity in our interconnected world and can improve the health security of our own local population. Operationalising this framework for global health rests on three key action pillars:

  • Developing and sharing global health related knowledge and skills
  • Fostering equity in global health through expanded international cooperation
  • Promoting good global health governance for greater global health security

The large, cosmopolitan Manchester region is itself a thriving product of globalisation and knows well the importance of looking outwards even as it contemplates what is happening amidst its environs. Manchester has many existing capacities relevant to global health.  Apart from the hospital and community services of the National Health Service and the medical and health faculty of the University, there are several University centres and institutes as well as local civil society groups that have strong international connections.

In these terms, global health is really a mindset and attitude that can think and act locally and globally at the same time.


Professor Mukesh Kapila, CBE, Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs Executive Director, Office for Global Health, University of Manchester & Manchester Academic Health Centre

We'd love to hear what you think! Comment below to join the conversation!