Friday, December 23, 2011

Public Health in the 21st Century

At the beginning of the 21st century, key public health issues and challenges have taken center stage on the global scene.  Ranging from arsenic in drinking water to asthma among children and adults; from the re-emergence of cholera, to increasing rates of various forms of cancer; from HIV and AIDS to MDR-TB, malaria; from the crises faced by displaced or refugee populations to the new challenges that have emerged for reproductive health and rights; from the experience of public health emergencies as the result of disasters such as tsunamis, and catastrophic storms to the growing specter of potential global pandemics such as those linked to H5N1.  The expansion of serious public health problems, increasingly taking shape on a global scale, has been one of the defining features of recent history.

Like most aspects of contemporary life, this range of key public health problems has been increasingly impacted by processes associated with globalization.  The issues that confront us have been, and are, being shaped by evolving processes such as the growth of inequalities between the rich and the poor, the globalization of trade and commerce, new patterns of travel and migration, as well as a significant reduction in available resources for the development and sustainability of public health infrastructures.

The social, cultural, economic and political transformations associated with globalization have increasingly intersected with the growing range of environmental threats produced by industrialization, epidemics of newly-emerging infectious diseases, and the rapid increase of chronic diseases linked to changing lifestyles.

The new public health challenges of the 21st century have taken place within the context of a rapidly changing political and institutional landscape. In recent decades the field that was initially described as international health involving sovereign states has increasingly been re-conceptualized as global health within the global system. 

This change represents far more than a simple shift in language.  It stems from a fundamental transformation in the nature of health threats and in the kinds of solutions that must be posed to them.  It recognizes that many of the most serious health threats facing the world community today reach beyond the sovereign borders of nation-states and require the attention not only of governments but also of a range of non-state institutions and actors.

The Routledge International Handbook on Global Public Health, edited by Richard Parker and Marni Sommer, addresses both the emerging issues and conceptualizations of the notion of global health, expanding upon and highlighting critical priorities in this rapidly evolving field.  This comprehensive handbook is intended to provide an overview for students, practitioners, researchers, and policy makers working in or concerned with public health around the globe.

The book includes ten sections, ranging from Structural Inequalities and Global Public Health, to Ecological Transformation and Environmental Health in the Global System, Global Access to Essential Medicines, Global Mental Health, and Health Systems, Health Capacity and the Politics of Global Health, and brings together leading authors from across the world to reflect on past, present, and future approaches to understanding and promoting global public health.