As you get involved in international news and public interests, one topic you’re guaranteed to come across is global health. But, as you go on to learn more, you come across more terms: public health, international health, planetary health. While these can seem confusing and hard to discern, the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases (UNC) considers these terms indistinguishable. All of the terms view health in terms of physical, mental, and social well-being, rather than simply the absence of disease. The emphasis of health promotion in these terms is on population-level policies, rather than individual approaches. These terms focus on the cause of ill-health through economic, scientific, and cultural strategies.

Many organizations and websites list these terms with different definitions. However, UNC argues that distinguishing differences between the terms conflicts with the global health management strategy of accomplishing optimum levels of health for populations. In fact, the Consortium of Universities for Global Health Executive Board argues that without an accepted definition of global health, countries will have a harder time determining what global health is working to achieve and how global health progress will be made and recorded. Due to recent crises, such as climate change, weather emergencies, and food and energy crises, global health efforts have become more challenging and more pressing.

So what exactly is global health? It is the understanding of health care in an interdisciplinary and international context. Global health includes the study, research, and practice of medicine aimed to improve health and healthcare for populations worldwide. Global health strategies and initiatives incorporate various factors including epistemology, public policy, environmental factors, cultural studies, economic disparities and more. As globalization, or an enhanced awareness of common vulnerabilities, gains popularity, the feeling of increased shared responsibility for inequities grow and the understanding of the international collaboration required to combat these issues is increased.

Global health is a broad and diverse umbrella category. While the ever-growing list of global health issues ranges from large to minuscule, there are many organizations working to find solutions built on the concept that every individual matters in the advancement of global health. It is important to get involved and remain aware of the challenges facing global health initiatives and organizations. Engage in discussion, debate the issues, and expand your perspective on medicine and global health.