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Fostering a global perspective in UK health

As our world becomes ever more tightly interconnected, increased cross-border movement of pathogens and people necessitates a more international perspective for UK healthcare workers.

Recent well publicised disease outbreaks, such as the Ebola virus, highlight the importance of a healthcare community alert to international disease risks in addition to domestic ones. This need is amplified by high levels of migration, both of patients and medical professionals. An understanding of the influence of cultural, environmental, and genetic factors on disease is essential for clinical staff both working in multicultural communities in the UK, and abroad.

Indeed, medical professionals themselves recognise this need, and there has been increasing demand for global health training, across many clinical disciplines. The International Federation of medical students, representing 1.2 million medical students from 91 countries, has called for greater global health focus in the medical curriculum. [1] In addition, national bodies such as the general medical council (GMC) have called for greater engagement. [2] The Department of Health in it’s ‘Health is Global’ paper acknowledges the value of global health experience, and the untapped potential in the health service workforce for tackling global health issues. [3]

The role of UK health professionals has been recognised as vital in achieving the millennium development goals, but it is also important to consider the lessons that high income countries can learn from low income countries. Examples include Mexico’s Oportunidades programme of conditional cash transfers. [4] Here, to break the cycle of poverty a monthly stipend to low income families will be terminated if parents cease to bring their children to health checkups, or fail to attend nutrition classes. The UK, where a 8 year life expectancy gap remains between affluent and deprived areas, could benefit from the adoption of this scheme.

Currently, the extent to which global health education (GHE) is embedded into undergraduate study can vary greatly between institution and specialty. For GHE to become an integral part of education for UK healthcare specialists, there needs to be a coordinated strategy for the implementation of both taught and practical experience of international healthcare.

Health risks have both global causes and consequences, and to effectively manage disease in the future, an internationally-minded healthcare staff will be essential.

Rosie Freer is editor of Polygeia’s Cambridge Global Health. She is currently in the second year of a PhD, researching Alzheimer’s Disease.


[1] International Federation of Medical Students Association [IMFSA] (2010) Policy statement: global health and the medical curriculum. Available: Accessed 29 September 2011.

[2] General Medical Council. Tomorrow’s doctors: recommendations on undergraduate medical education. London: GMC; 2009.

[3] Department of Health. Health is Global: A UK Government Strategy 2008–13. London: Department of Health; 2008.

[4] Crisp N. Turning the World Upside Down: The Search for Global Health in the 21st Century. London: RSM Press, 2010.


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