Morning Forum speaker: Public health investments paying off globally

Public health expert Christy Hanson shared her passion for global health – and why everyone should care about it – in a Feb. 4 Morning Forum of Los Altos presentation, “The Greatest Story Never Told: Global Public Health Investments Are Paying Off.”

Hanson is dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship and teaches at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. She earned her master’s in public health from the University of Minnesota and a doctorate from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has served as chief of the Infectious Disease Division of the U. S. Agency for International Development.

Hanson based her presentation on her years of experience in international public health in Africa, Asia and Latin America, highlighting the direct relationship between the wealth of a country and the life expectancy of its citizens.

It is important to consider why people die prematurely, according to Hanson. In high-income societies, people tend to die at an older age from heart problems, cancer or other noncommunicable diseases. In low-income societies, people die at a younger age from communicable diseases, malnutrition-related illnesses and childbirth. Many of these early causes of death are preventable and treatable, she said.

In 1993, the World Bank published a report that defined health interventions as “best buys” for economic and social development. In 2000, global communities came together under a series of Millennium Development Goals that promised to cut world poverty in half. Eight areas of concern, including several related to health, became the focus of international development. Hanson explained how to assess the social determinants of health using an “onion model” of peeling away layers of a health problem by repeatedly asking why a population faces the problem.

At the core of seemingly medical problems are poverty and unequal access to health care, she said. Hanson gave examples to describe how intervention to overcome social, economic and medical challenges can be prioritized, packaged, brought to the population and incentivized to enable health-seeking behavior.

“Global public health investments are paying off,” Hanson said, using statistics and graphs to support her statement.

While success in global health has accelerated over the past decade, key challenges remain, including ensuring that the benefits of public health reach the most marginalized, nurturing research and development for new tools and technologies and aligning financing priorities.

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