Towards a Social Justice Approach to Understanding and Transforming Global Health
The Making of Oxford University Press’s Textbook of Global Health. With author Anne-Emanuelle Birn, University of Toronto.
The global health field brings good news, bad news, and complicated news.
At the aggregate level, health has improved: global life expectancy increased from 52.5 years in 1960 to 71.6 today, thanks to a mix of public health and sociopolitical interventions. Yet health inequities within and between countries are growing, and in many locations health indicators are flatlining or even reversing.
Some problems are recurrences of diseases previously under control, such as tuberculosis and yellow fever, particularly affecting the poorest and most oppressed groups. Others stem from escalating militarism, which by 2015 generated the highest number of refugees and displaced persons since World War II.
Most health problems are related to accelerating features of neoliberal globalization, including: inhumane labor practices; extractive industries, also driving climate change; corporate control/marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages; land grabs and agribusiness expansion, bankrupting smallholders and degrading the environment; and unprecedented levels of illicit financial outflows, impeding investments in public education, housing, and clean water.
Remarkably, the underlying causes of ill health –namely poverty, war, class/racial/gender oppression, and capitalism writ large– are rarely registered or reported.
Using a critical political economy lens, this talk discusses the deep roots of health problems across the world and analyzes why mainstream global health actors overlook these issues, as per the 4th edition of Oxford University Press's Textbook of Global Health.
Lead author Anne-Emanuelle Birn will engage the audience with such questions as: What should be the role of advocates, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers in generating and sustaining a critique of the global health industry? How can we harness our imagination, persistence, and knowledge to bettering and transforming global health in solidarity with people’s struggles?
Anne-Emanuelle Birn is Professor of Critical Development Studies and of Social and Behavioural Health Sciences at the University of Toronto, where she served as Canada Research Chair in International Health from 2003 to 2013.
Professor Birn’s research explores the history, politics, and political economy of international/global health, with particular interests in Latin American health and social justice movements, child health/rights, philanthrocapitalism, and the societal determination of health—and emphases ranging from the scatological to the ideological.
Her books include: Marriage of Convenience: Rockefeller International Health and Revolutionary Mexico (2006); Comrades in Health: US Health Internationalists, Abroad and at Home (2013); and Oxford University Press’s Textbook of Global Health (2009 and 2017 editions).
In 2014 Professor Birn was recognized among the top 100 Women Leaders in Global Health, and in 2016 she was named to the Independent Panel on Global Governance for Health, organized out of the University of Oslo.