Bioethics Blogs

How Bioethicists Can Help Reduce Global Health Inequities

The state of global health is a major concern. Despite advances in medicine and medical care and massive growth of the global economy, health in the world is characterized by widening disparities within and between countries; lack of access to even basic health care for billions of people; the emergence of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, HIV, and many other new infectious diseases; rising costs of commercialized health care; and massive increases in the incidence of obesity and diabetes.

The causes are multifactorial and complex: overlapping crises in the economy; food and water security; education; demographic changes resulting from wars, refugees, and ageing; the environment; and global leadership. But the ideology behind the deliberately structured global political economy is a central factor when it is used to justify corrupt and even fraudulent activity.

Understanding what has led to widening disparities in health and the implications for the remainder of the 21st century, if we continue along the same trajectory, should prompt deep introspection and examination of our values. Many influential people, along with ordinary citizens, claim to value freedom, human rights, progress based on reason, human dignity, democracy, competitiveness in free markets, and economic growth through consumption. But these values have been used to justify strategies and power relations that benefit a small proportion of the world’s population, with inadequate regard for their impact on the majority who continue to live in poverty and poor health with little prospect for improvement. A prime example is financial institutions taking advantage of “freedom” to make unwise investments, which led to the global financial crisis in which many people lost their homes and pensions and many more were thrown into poverty.   

Reflective inquiry and greater understanding of the complexity of our value system and its distortions can provide some insights into the pathophysiology of the above crises.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.