The Globalisation of Public Health: Ensuring Healthcare Access for All

05 May 2015: Against a backdrop of some enormous global failures, global healthcare is not yet a human right for all. However, there is hope that we can tackle the issues of public health around the world by working together, systematically.

This is according to Prof. Dr. Med. Ulrich Laaser, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Bielefeld, Germany. He was speaking at the 5th annual Africa Health Exhibition & Congress, which opened this morning at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Johannesburg. The event continues on 6-7 May.

Opening the Public Health Conference at the Africa Health event – one of 13 CPD-accredited conferences taking place in parallel over three days - Dr Laaser commented: "We face some real global failures including global warming, global divides like poverty and hunger, global security issues of civil war and terrorism and global instability in the form of financial crises. These impact on the arena of public health[1]."

Dr Laaser says that despite the global medical profession having achieved a number of great public health achievements in the 20th century - including immunisation, the control of infectious diseases, declining deaths from heart disease and stroke and the recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard - major obstacles nonetheless remain for global health. These require solutions and one of these is an acknowledgement that the language of public health issues needs to be refined and agreed.

He commented that there was not a global agreement on what public health functions or services consisted of. The lack of a common vocabulary in public health impacts negatively on the efforts of public health systems around the world to address issues. Dr Laaser said, "We have so many descriptions of public health functions from different parts of the world. All are similar and yet all are different. It is hard to agree on the basic language and it is therefore more difficult to solve the problems."

Dr Laaser, a former President of the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) outlined how a taskforce was formed by the WFPHA to outline and define public terminology in the public health arena. The taskforce produced a draft document in 2014, outlining seven functions in the public health arena, namely governance, information, advocacy, protection, prevention, promotion and capacity. Under these headings, a flexible and clear framework is outlined for different countries to work on their public health services and strategic needs.

Dr Laaser concluded his presentation by remarking that, "We need more cooperation between the academic, educational and government body stakeholders in the ‘public health triangle'. Good global governance is essential. However, in the lack of good global governance, regional cooperation is required, especially for the smaller public health associations. I am very proud that under my leadership, we saw the launch of the African Federation of Public Health Associations (AFPHA) in Addis Ababa in 2012."