The global health community seems at a loss these days, as indicated by two conferences yesterday I web-participated in devoted to coming up with a future game plan for the field. I’ll get to those, but first some context:
I am long-in-tooth enough to remember when ‘global health’ didn’t exist, not by name anyway, before Bill Gates got into philanthropy and when the only ‘Third World’ disease most of us in the West cared about was AIDS. And we cared only because that disease figured out how to spread beyond its original confines in Africa. Today, it can seem like everybody and their mother wants a piece of the global health bandwagon.
Or they did anyway, when funding for fighting diseases of poverty in poor communities (my definition of global health, which is debatable) was increasing at the rate of Starbucks franchises.
Global health’s golden age began somewhere around the year 2000 and was due in part to the meteoric rise of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I think it’s fair to say the Seattle philanthropy revolutionized and resurrected many neglected areas of international health by greatly expanding efforts in children’s immunizations worldwide as well as reinvigorating many moribund fields like malaria and tuberculosis research.
But it wasn’t just because of the Gates Foundation that global health took off. The now almost unimaginable toll taken by AIDS in Africa and other parts of the developing world had become intolerable, at least for many AIDS activists, human rights groups and public health experts. Continue reading