A formula for informed global health commentary

Here’s a formula for intelligent conversation on pretty much anything in public health:

[Method/Project/Tactic/Strategy X] is an awesome idea, and we need more of [X], but it can be challenging to do well because of problems with education / technology / resources, etc.

Now you know the secret. When you hear about Technology Y or Strategy Z, you can sound like a global health expert too.

I think this problem is one reason why there are fewer really good global health blogs than there are in some other fields. There are good ones — Karen Grepin and Alanna Shaikh for starters — and I can’t quantify the shortfall, but there do seem to be more good blogs on economic development and aid work in general than global health in particular. (There are a lot of organizational blogs, of course, but they tend to be more self-promotional, and thus less interesting to a more critical reader.)

One possible reason is that the arguments in global health tend to be about the best way to do things, such as the best mix of resources or the right tactic for fighting a particular disease like malaria, rather than what we should be doing in the first place.

The truth is that a lot of the things we want to do in global health are inherently good. Vaccinating more children = good. Stopping disease outbreaks = good. More trained health care workers = good. More funding for [insert favorite disease] = good. And so on. Disagreements typically arise because advocates of these different approaches are sometimes pulling from the same pot of resources, but it’s hard to argue that any single tactic or disease or organization should be getting less money.

Contrast that with the broader debates in development. Bill Easterly recently argued that “We don’t know how to solve global poverty and that’s a good thing.” There’s just so much still up for debate. Which leaves a lot more room for interesting commentary and argument that amongst global health experts. As a final example, I’ll offer this Lancet article by several of my professors: “Can the world afford to save the lives of 6 million children each year?” (for the record, they answer “yes”). From their abstract:

“the lives of 6 million children could be saved each year if 23 proven interventions were universally available in the 42 countries responsible for 90% of child deaths in 2000.”

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03 2011

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  1. 1

    Thanks for the compliment! You’re right about the lack of global health blogs. I think it’s because it’s hard to find the sweet spot in terms of audience – global health wonks are looking for different kinds of blog posts that interested laypeople. I think Karen pretty much owns the space on blog posts that appeal to everyone.

  2. 2

    Alanna — that sounds about right. Health is or can be (I think?) bigger, more technical, and more specialized than other areas of aid or development work (though there are cores of more technical people in each subfield of course) so the balance between general interest and niche is hard to strike. I’m not really sure what my target audience is — something to think about I guess.


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