If I were to gauge the health of the world today based on mainstream media alone, I would probably say it’s not good. I should apologize now because as hard as I have tried I can’t seem to blog about how healthy the world is without mentioning Ebola – as seems to be true in most of social media now too. Even as I rewrite this post, NPR is wrapping up its 4th segment of the day covering nothing other than, Ebola. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times discussing the potential for Ebola to go airborne made the global health outlook seem rather dark also. Although, we don’t (or shouldn’t) rely on the media alone to make determinations about world health status. What resources should be used to determine how healthy the world is? Unfortunately, there is no single answer.
The Textbook of International Health defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So even if the world were absent of disease, the populations’ physical, mental, and social well-being would also need measurement and analysis.
The 8 UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cover areas such as poverty, hunger, education, child mortality, maternal health, and environmental sustainability. All of them report positive progress, some well in advance of their 5-year deadline, and make a strong indication that the current health status is improving. Statements such as:
“The target of reducing extreme poverty rate by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline.”
“Enrollment in primary education in developing regions reached 90 per cent in 2010, up from 82 per cent in 1999, which means more kids than ever are attending primary school.”
“New HIV infections continue to decline in most regions.”
So would it be safe to assume based on these positive findings that world health is looking good? The UN is not a single agency designated to make that determination and while the MDGs list positive information they also point out that a healthy world is still a work in progress.
“Comprehensive knowledge of HIV transmission remains low among young people, along with condom use.”
“The maternal mortality ration in developing regions is still 14 times higher than in the developed regions.”
Still the 2014 World Health Statistics published by the World Health Organization, produced some positive statistics, but cautions that “these estimates are subject to considerable uncertainty, especially for countries with week statistical and health information systems where the quality of underlying empirical data is limited.” Reviewing the data reveals that life expectancy has increased in almost every country while infant mortality and under-five mortality rates have reduced in a large number of countries. So the world IS healthy, yes?
Our readings and lectures reveal there is no one resource that will give a definite answer on the health status of the world. Even the Daily Adjust Life Year (DALY) should be used in conjunction with other sources of data and even then the accuracy of the data can be, and should be, questioned.
Ebola has brought world health back to the forefront and has shown that while some of our data signals improvements there are still vulnerabilities in our systems. Ebola has revealed a breakdown in communication, leadership, trust, and education between our communities and countries. Should more emphasis be given on the social well-being of our society at large in an effort to better combat these health challenges? At what point, if ever, will we be able to say our world is healthy? Until we have perfect data and perfect resources compiling that data – we will always be searching and striving for better world health. Ebola has climbed its way to the top of this global health iceberg and we should not lose focus on what’s underneath the water either.