The University of Amsterdam concentrates its research in 15 “Priority Research Areas”. Global Health is one of these. The Centre for Social Science and Global Health is based at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) and the Department of Anthropology is closely linked to the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development (AIGHD), which is based in the medical faculty. The priority research area brings together social science and medical research expertise.
Health and illness are as much social as they are medical phenomena, and they are increasingly global.
Globalization involves the increased complexity, frequency and intensity of geographical connections, interactions and flows, not only economic and political, but also social, cultural, technological, and biological.
All these dimensions of globalisation impact on health: crises in the global economy affect the financing of local health-care systems, social mobility enables health workers to move, causing shortages is some areas while filling gaps in others, and international travel facilitates the spread of pathogens into new populations, leading to regular global pandemic scares.
Most of the major health problems confronting society today are complex and multifactorial and are seldom limited to particular geographical areas: “tropical” diseases are an increasing threat to the global North, while the “diseases of civilization” such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease are on the increase in the global South. Pharmaceutical companies are among the biggest and most powerful multinationals, and clinical trials, often led by developed country institutions and carried out in developing countries, have become a global industry, raising a range of social and ethical issues. Armed conflicts, disasters and resulting flows of migrants further contribute to the globalisation of illness and care.
Health has become a commodity in a global market, with people from poor countries moving to rich countries to take advantage of public health services and available drugs, and people from rich countries travelling to poorer countries as ‘health tourists’ seeking cheaper and more accessible private treatment.
The Internet has made the dissemination and exchange of health information and services fast and global, enabling the bypassing of the traditional gatekeepers of biomedical pharmaceuticals and treatments and the establishment of virtual communities and interest groups that coalesce around specific health issues and that transcend geographical boundaries and political controls. Ordinary people have unparalleled access to information about health and illness through the Internet, though limited guidance in separating the reliable from the bogus.
Far from leading to homogeneity, globalization preserves and even enhances many existing differences and inequalities. It also enables new and more complex inequalities. While diversity is generally viewed as positive, inequality is seen as a problem, and understanding the intricate ways in which diversity and inequality interact on a global level is crucial for addressing inequalities in health.