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What is global health?

In this video, Tanja Hammel discusses the definition, scope and emergence of global health.

Global health is a field of many different vested interests. Sometimes the parties involved combine their efforts to achieve a common objective. Sometimes these parties put their own objectives above the common good and come into conflict with one another. But what exactly is global health?

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the benefits and challenges of a global health approach became very visible. On the one hand, we all witnessed medical and technological progress: The vaccines were developed incredibly fast. And in order to ensure that the vaccines are equally distributed, the World Health Organization initiated the COVAX scheme. On the other hand, the pandemic showed the limits of global health. We witnessed unsuccessful surveillance and communication; we saw how important supply chains broke down. The way in which high-income countries bought vaccines risked ruining the global COVAX vaccine distribution plan.

Are the limits of global health just the effect of a world overwhelmed by a global crisis? Apparently not. According to the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the problems in global health predated the Covid-19 pandemic. In a speech before the general assembly in January 2021, he remembered the HIV pandemic in the 1980s and the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. He pointed out that in both pandemics, the world’s poor did not get access to life-saving medicines and vaccines for an incredibly long time. He emphasised that we should avoid the mistakes made during both pandemics. In order to do so, we need to understand that the problem persists.

Watch how Tanja Hammel discusses the definitions, scope, and emergence of global health in this video. Then listen to the audio of the speech of the Director-General of the World Health Organization. Do you think it is possible to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of past pandemics? How do we do that?


Abdalla SM, Solomon H, Trinquart L, et al. What is considered as global health scholarship? A meta-knowledge analysis of global health journals and definitions. BMJ Global Health [Internet]. 2020 [cited 7 December 2021]; 5 (10). Available from:

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