Reimagining Global Health: An Introduction

Reimagining Global Health: An Introduction

Reimagining Global Health: An Introduction

Reimagining Global Health: An Introduction


Bringing together the experience, perspective and expertise of Paul Farmer, Jim Yong Kim, and Arthur Kleinman, Reimagining Global Health provides an original, compelling introduction to the field of global health. Drawn from a Harvard course developed by their student Matthew Basilico, this work provides an accessible and engaging framework for the study of global health. Insisting on an approach that is historically deep and geographically broad, the authors underline the importance of a transdisciplinary approach, and offer a highly readable distillation of several historical and ethnographic perspectives of contemporary global health problems.

The case studies presented throughout Reimagining Global Health bring together ethnographic, theoretical, and historical perspectives into a wholly new and exciting investigation of global health. The interdisciplinary approach outlined in this text should prove useful not only in schools of public health, nursing, and medicine, but also in undergraduate and graduate classes in anthropology, sociology, political economy, and history, among others.


This book, several years in the making, derives from a class titled Case Studies in Global Health: Biosocial Perspectives, first taught at Harvard College in 2008. That same year, several articles appeared in the U.S. popular press noting that global health was a hot topic among students. New class offerings and even undergraduate degrees in global health were being offered in over a dozen American universities. Such programs, sometimes hastily concocted, presented what was termed a new discipline.

But global health, while a marked improvement on its forebear “international health,” remains a collection of problems rather than a discipline. The collection of problems explored in this book and in complementary teaching materials—problems ranging from epidemics (from AIDS to polio to noncommunicable diseases) and the development of new technologies (preventatives, diagnostics, treatments) to the effective delivery of these technologies to those most in need—all turn on the quest for equity.

The just and equitable distribution of the risk of suffering and of tools to lessen or prevent it is too often the unaddressed problem in global health. No one sets out to ignore equity, but the way we frame issues of causality and response typically fails to give it due consideration. Equity is less the proverbial elephant in the room than the elephant lumbering around a maze of screens dividing that room into a series of confined spaces.

This myopia is changing. We are starting to lift our heads to see the entire room and the elephant in it. The roots of global health are to be found, we argue in chapter 3, in colonial medicine, a series of practices in which the concept of equity played a small role, and in international health, which gained prominence through nineteenth-

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