Dafydd Stonehewer (4th place) – Why is Global Health important and how is it taught in medical school?

Dafydd Stonehewer 

Fourth place in the Manchester Global Health Competition 2014.

Dafydd is a second year medical student at Manchester Medical School and originally from Anglesey, an island off North Wales. He believes global health is an extremely interesting branch of medicine that is proving more and more important each year.

I believe the teaching of Global Health at medical school would be improved by enhancing the components of public health already taught, to include the impact on global populations. In addition to discussing and comparing differences between various populations, we could include the application of epidemiology and pathology of diseases on a worldwide scale. Global Health should also be incorporated into ethics and law lectures, exploring aspects such as the moral necessity to provide aid and, the difficulties encountered by the United Nations (UN) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in reaching less developed areas. Finally the teaching should include controversial issues like the misconceptions surrounding improving global health and overpopulation.

The importance and relevance of Global Health can be illustrated using the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. When Ebola, a very deadly and very contagious form of haemorrhagic fever, emerged in Guinea in December 2013, it caused huge problems. The existing healthcare systems were relatively weak, underfunded and could not perform suitable and timely responses to the outbreak. This resulted in an exponential increase in the number of infected people and it quickly spread to the neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia then Nigeria and other nations with health care infrastructures in equally dire need of improvement. This lead to Ebola being declared an international public health emergency in August 2014. The outbreak came to affect developed nations including the US and UK as fear of an outbreak and the risk of its spread from returning aid workers, hit the public consciousness. Despite aid from NGOs, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other individual nations to bolster the response to the outbreak, it has not abated. Having said this, international efforts combined with the hard work of local healthcare professionals have made progress. Ebola’s rate of infection has slowed in Liberia and Guinea and indeed, through tremendous effort, has been eradicated from Nigeria and Senegal entirely.

The work against Ebola has done much to remove the perceived ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy held in more developed nations, that only ‘those’ poorer nations have nasty illnesses and that they do not affect ‘us’ in the more developed world. It is the realisation that if the Guinean healthcare system had been better in December 2013 then it would not only be the health of the Guineans that would be improved but also the health of everyone else on earth.

Ebola illustrated how important the core beliefs of Global Health are: that the need for good quality and accessible healthcare is universal, regardless of means, culture or location. That through the interconnectedness of our world, threats to the health of some are threats to the health of all and that we owe it to ourselves both as a species and as individuals to strive to ensure a world where equity in healthcare is guaranteed for the greater good of mankind. This should be taught at medical school.

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