The Importance of Global Health at APHA


In today’s interconnected world, global health is only as strong as the health care systems of the least developed countries among us. The recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is an unfortunate reminder of what can happen when an outbreak of a disease with no known cure occurs in a country with an inadequate health system. What started out in a remote village in Guinea has quickly become a complex public health emergency in West Africa and infected health workers as far away as the United States and Europe, creating a global fear. Epidemics like Ebola underscore the importance, today more than ever, of examining public health through an international lens and of investing in stronger health systems in developing countries. 

In mid-November, I will be flying to New Orleans with several Chemonics colleagues to participate in the world’s largest gathering of public health experts and officials, the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting and Exposition. As one of the governing councilors recently elected by APHA to lead its International Health Section for a one-year term, I will be participating in a panel on aid effectiveness at this year’s conference. Throughout the event, my colleagues and I will also be discussing the interconnectedness of domestic and international health with public health specialists from around the world, who like us are working to find ways to prevent diseases like Ebola from growing into regional or global epidemics.

I look forward to participating in the conference and sharing my observations in another post in the coming weeks.

What is the American Public Health Association?

While a doctor treats people who are sick, public health workers try to prevent people from getting sick or injured in the first place. We do this in many ways, such as by vaccinating children and adults against deadly diseases and educating people about issues like tobacco and alcohol to make healthy decisions. We also track epidemics like Ebola and shed light on why some people are more likely to suffer from poor health than others. The many facets of public health include speaking out for laws that promote smoke-free indoor air and seatbelts, spreading the word about ways to stay healthy, and giving science-based solutions to problems. Public health saves money, improves the quality of life, helps children thrive, and reduces human suffering.

Founded in 1872, APHA is the oldest professional body of public health workers focused on promoting and protecting the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work, and play. The association has more than 30,000 members from more than 100 countries, and every year its annual meeting attracts more than 12,000 health professionals and students from all over the world. This year the meeting will be held in New Orleans from November 14-19. A delegation of 10 public health and international development specialists from Chemonics’ Health Practice, including myself, will participate in the event through panel sessions, a presentation on Chemonics’ innovative HIV/AIDS work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a booth exhibition. You can find all of us at Booth 821.

Why is APHA’s International Health Section important?

APHA is committed to improving global health and was one of the first U.S.-based NGOs to become involved in this field. In the 1970s, APHA created its own program in global health and began working with other organizations to promote health in countries around the world. The International Health Section, which I will help lead in the year ahead, was based on the need for an international health constituency within APHA and an international health forum that would encourage dialogue on the interdependence of domestic and international health issues. It was also the outcome of acknowledgement that improved health throughout the world was a necessary part of the socioeconomic conditions for lasting peace. As the leading professional association promoting and protecting the health of all people, APHA’s diverse membership includes representation from over 100 countries. APHA promotes global health through various programs, activities, and partnerships, but the International Health Section is one of the most visible and active.

What are Chemonics contributions to the global health agenda?

Chemonics takes an integrated, multi-sectoral approach to strengthening health systems in developing countries by working with national and local governments, local NGOs, and the private sector. With the goal of making sustainable improvements to the health sector, we focus on building in-country leadership capacity, strengthening organizations, and promoting policies and innovative financing solutions that enable the health sector to meet the needs of its clients. My colleagues and I look forward to participating in this year’s APHA conference, which is a tremendous opportunity for public health workers to support the integration, collaboration, communication, and knowledge sharing that today’s complex health challenges demand. We are glad to be involved in the process of sharing new ideas and lessons learned that can help people to live more productive and independent lives.

In addition to being a medical doctor, Oscar Cordon is a director in Chemonics' health practice. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Dr. Cordon’s series on APHA 2014, with observations from inside the conference about the latest in global health.

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