November 10, 2016
Global Health: Now More Than Ever
Message from Professor and Chair David Peters
In the last days and weeks, colleagues from the Bloomberg School and around the world have spoken to me with dismay over populist trends they see as undermining our shared values of tolerance and global citizenship. Foremost on our minds is this week’s election of Trump in the United States. Along with this and the recent the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, the Duterte election in the Philippines, and the rejection of the Colombia peace referendum, for example, it seems that massive numbers of people are voting for the politics of isolation, fear, and division.
The Department of International Health was founded over 55 years ago on principles of internationalism – the belief that we can overcome divisions of nationalism, class, wealth, and other obstacles to social justice and ill health though the promise of science, public health practice and education. And in doing so, we learn from and promote the diversity of cultures, building of local capabilities, and international cooperation. These values are not fleeting – they endure, almost as part of our collective DNA.
As a concerned scientific community, we cannot simply claim these elections and plebiscites are “rigged.” We must recognize that many people are disaffected by public institutions that do not provide them the benefits they expect. Whereas we easily recognize public sector failure in countries suffering from the ravages of civil conflict, displaced populations, and epidemic disease – places where Hopkins faculty, students, and alumni often jump in to help – we must also recognize that there are many people in America and other high- and middle-income countries that are also deeply alienated from public institutions. Given the unexpected outcomes of many of these votes, it is also clear that the tools we commonly use in public health to gauge people’s opinion are very crude, and even misleading when it comes to predicting behaviors of populations.
This is a time when our public health skills and global health values are needed more than ever. No doubt recent events cast some uncertainty over the future of global health programs and research. We do need an agenda to better understand and meet peoples’ expectations, and sharpen our science of communication. But more importantly, we need to find ways to ensure that health and social benefits are inclusive – whether in America or around the world. The populist trends challenge us to work better and differently if we are to have policies and interventions that promote justice, good health, diversity, and the common good – all fundamental goals of public health. As a global public health community, our science, ideas, leadership and service are sorely needed to achieve these goals. I believe we are up to the challenge.
David H Peters, MD, MPH, DrPH
Professor & Chair
Department of International Health
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health