BMJ GH: Defining global health as public health somewhere else (4)

26 January, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

I agree with Najeeb and Chris. If we must, let us have one simple and elegant definition for global health – ‘what is common to all’. The emphasis is on “ALL” - almost 8 billion of us because there is only one human species and we are all 99.5% alike at the DNA level. The 0.5 phenotypes are what distinguish us from one another including our siblings, period!

For example, all children born today everywhere have the same needs; at the very least, they all need primary healthcare; they all need clean water and improved sanitation; they all need to enter primary schools at age 6 or so; and given the opportunity, the sky is the limit.

Chris, you were not being thin skinned. We should all be outraged about such a casual reference to public health and I too am offended. With all due respect, we cannot accept such a definition. Let us stick to the WHO definition, which is for all and everywhere:

'Public Health is defined as “the art and science of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts of society” (Acheson, 1988; WHO). Activities to strengthen public health capacities and service aim to provide conditions under which people can maintain to be healthy, improve their health and wellbeing, or prevent the deterioration of their health. Public health focuses on the entire spectrum of health and wellbeing, not only the eradication of particular diseases. Many activities are targeted at populations such as health campaigns. Public health services also include the provision of personal services to individual persons, such as vaccinations, behavioural counselling, or health advice.'

Best wishes,


HIFA profile: Enku Kebede-Francis (PHD, MS, MEd) is an advisor in global health governance. She has worked for the United Nations (UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA and UNDPI); was an Assistant Professor at Tufts University Medical School/Department of Public Health; and, a Visiting Scientist at the USDA’s Center for Human Nutrition Research Center for Aging and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University Medical School. She also designed and implemented preventive health programs promoting women’s health and tobacco cessation programs in Croatia and worked on addiction prevention programs in Florida and Massachusetts, USA. Her professional interests include preventing scurvy and childhood blindness in developing countries using micronutrients. An advocate for primary healthcare for all as a right, she published a textbook in 2010, Global health Disparities: closing the gap through good governance.