Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New global health exhibit at the National Library of Medicine

The National Library of Medicine -- the world's largest medical library -- has launched an exhibit on global health at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The exhibit, entitled Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health, is devoted to raising awareness about challenges to human health and human rights in an increasingly interconnected (and in many ways, unstable) world. I have not seen the exhibit, but NLM has put out a very impressive exhibit website that provides a wealth of information about the history of the concept of 'global health', the myriad challenges posed to health around our planet, some of global health's (sung and unsung) heros, educational resources and opportunities for advocacy and commentary. If the website is any indication, it looks well worth a visit.

If you work in global health -- or 'global bioethics' for that matter -- you can lose your faith in its mission from time to time. Partly because the problems seem so overwhelming, too big to tackle in one short lifetime, as one small individual. Partly because when global health is made fashionable, strange things happen, such as students from rich universities streaming down to 'help' poorer countries in ways indistinguishable from global tourism. Partly because big funding institutions putting god-knows-how-much-money into god-knows-what-sort-of-project. Partly because trying improve health in an ethically responsible way, in contexts of gross inequality and injustice, can leave you with dirty hands and a bad taste in your mouth. Exhibits such as the one at NLM are largely aimed at the general public, but for those working in the field, it can have other functions: an opportunity to remember the original ethical vision of global health, transcend cynicism and renew old vows.


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