BtH: Global Health, Global Politics and Global Security


The Beyond the Headlines, or BtH, series at the Fredrick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University continued on March 29, 2017 with a panel discussion that focused on the intersection of global health, global politics and global security. 

The panel included Boston University School of Public Health Dean Sandro Galea and Director of the Boston University Institute for Health System Innovation and Policy Jonathan Woodson. The conversation was moderated by Pardee School Dean Adil Najam.

“Global health pops up when we talk about politics, global health pops up when we talk about security, and we keep encountering these discussions whether they are on Ebola or Zika,” Najam said. “You can not really divorce these big global health issues from either global political trends or global security trends whether you’re talking about refugees, infectious disease, or, with poverty, the type of disease that becomes a lifestyle issue for millions and billions of people.”

Galea said definitions of health are often narrowly confined to medicine, when in reality health encompasses a variety of issues including politics and security.

“Health ultimately is about having the capacity to live a full, rich life without physical or mental illness getting in your way,” Galea said.

Woodson, who served from 2010 to 2016 as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs in the United States Department of Defense, echoed the increasing interconnectedness of global health, global politics and global security and discussed how issues of global health directly impact the international security and geopolitics.

“If you’ve got a nation that is sick, you can’t have a productive workforce, your economy can’t grow, you compromise your security and your government systems don’t work,” Woodson said. “There is an essential realization of the importance of creating healthy nations as a way of creating prosperous nations.”

Galea discussed how strong political and security networks are crucial in strengthening health populations across the globe.

“The production of health is about social, political and economic structures,” Galea said. “You create healthy populations by having sustainable, stable politics and government that can create those types of things. You create health by having opportunities for housing. You create health by having opportunities for access to clean water and sanitation. You create health by having livable wages. You create health by having norms and interactions that foster inclusivity rather than that foster violence and inter-group warfare. That’s how you create health.”