Why do certain global health initiatives receive more attention than others?

We have all heard about HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. We have all encountered global health organizations, political agendas, and awareness movements surrounding these and other prominent global health issues. But what about other global health initiatives for polio, obstetric fistulas, pneumococcal diseases, or diarrhea? Though all of these issues are addressed within the global health world, they are indeed less recognizable. But why? Why is it that certain global health crises receive more attention and funding than others?

Professor Shiffman

Professor Shiffman

This question has also come to the attention of Professor Jeremy Shiffman of Syracuse University, who decided to investigate why certain global health initiatives take priority. Shiffman, a political scientist, decided to focus his investigation on the political aspect of this issue, taking a look at why prominent global health issues like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB achieve more political visibility and funding than others. Shiffman concluded that there are several influences that dictate an issue’s political visibility: “One is the existence of credible evidence to prove the severity of the problem. Another factor is leadership—having effective global champions for the issue. The third factor is the existence of a set of institutions who are advocating successfully to promote the issue.” Additionally, he suggests that lesser known global health initiatives be framed not simply as a public health problem, but as serious threats to human welfare and economic and political stability.

These findings explain the prominence of famous global health movements—often, issues that receive attention have affected people worldwide and thus have a widespread foundation of advocates in a variety of positions to publicize the issue. In contrast, less conspicuous issues are often restricted to a region, population, or socioeconomic class. This effectively limits the amount of people who are aware of the issue, who can relate to the issue, and who are in positions of influence to boost the issue to the global forefront.

So how can we change this? For those global health issues that tend to remain localized to smaller, poorer, or less globally connected demographics, it is important for those in a position of education, access to an audience, or influence to continue to direct attention to such initiatives. Furthermore, based on Professor Shiffman’s assessment, lesser known issues can be framed more effectively—every global health issue is important and worthwhile, so to just say that does not set apart the initiative from any other. Instead, these unpublicized issues can be framed more urgently with a human rights, political, or economic appeal.

Of course, this is not an appeal to replace global health issues already in the spotlight—there is a reason that HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, etc. are important issues that require global participation for eradication. Rather, this is a suggestion to expand the spotlight, allowing other less recognizable problems to gain visibility.

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