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April 27, 2023

Responding To: Georgetown Reflects on CUGH 2023: "Global Health at a Crossroads: Equity, Climate Change and Microbial Threats"

An Expansionist View of Global Health

Gabriela M. Guzmán (L’23)

It was an honor to attend the Consortium of Universities for Global Health’s (CUGH) 14th Annual Conference, held April 14 through 16, and engage with and listen to national and global experts on the theme of “Global Health at a Crossroads: Equity, Climate Change, and Microbial Threats.” Being in a room filled with experts and practitioners across the globe who are as passionate as you are about national and global health issues is always a treat and a pleasure. The conference offered a wide range of interesting, relevant topics regarding today’s global health challenges. The sessions provided concise introductions of these challenges from leading experts working in international organizations, universities, and practitioners on the front.

Some of the sessions I attended addressed pressing issues here in the United States and how these problems nationally have a global impact—for instance, women’s rights to abortion post-Dobbs and U.S. guns making their way to Mexico and Central America. It’s important for a young legal practitioner and student like me to have an open mind and listen to these sessions that affect my country personally. Global health concerns have almost always historically been pinned and blamed on the “inefficiencies” or “lack of resources” of the infamously named “Global South,” so it’s important to have these open conversations about wealthy/powerful nations in the Global North and their impact on the world. Finally, many of the plenaries focused on the future of global health and how we can move towards a more equitable future with a better understanding of the structures of power that got us where we are.

My favorite event of the conference was labeled the “Great Global Health Debate” and focused on the question: “Is the definition of Global Health too narrow, and should it be expanded to include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?” The debate was lively and poked holes at our understanding of global health and served to expand our understanding of what global health can and cannot achieve with the current structures in place. Initially, my gut told me that the definition should be expanded to include the SDGs because global health is more than just being healthy and having access to health; it’s the wealth, gender, and racial inequities that exist. It’s the damage to the environment and our right to a healthy one. Global health is the right to quality education, work, and live without fear of death or persecution. However, as explained in the debate, the way global health structures are set currently, where structures of power and an inability for these structures to sit and listen to what and how countries have functioned for centuries, acts as a barrier preventing further traction forward. Further, global health law funding and power intertwine equally in the ability to be an imposition to progress and inefficient at mediocre.

I believe the question is a bit misleading: I still think that the definition of global health should include the SDGs, but can it? With my limited experience in global health but my vast experience as a witness of these archaic but lively power structures that keep the whole system alive, I would say that global health cannot—at its current state—also encompass the SDGs. I wholeheartedly believe, though, that it is everyone’s wish that in a not-so-far distant future, global health encompasses these goals and that all countries are capable of handling and reigning in on these structures for the good of their own people and in harmony with the planet.

As my time at Georgetown Law (and in Washington, DC) comes to an end, the conference reminded me of why I decided to further my studies and dedicate my career to health law in the first place. Behind all the health inequities suffered, there are laws, structures, and policies that should either have been instituted or should have been revised or eliminated. As attorneys, health care professionals, and experts, we must continue to listen, learn, and polish our toolboxes to serve our communities and make our world and country a safer and healthier place for everyone.

Thank you to Dr. Andrés Constantin, the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, and the Global Health Institute for the opportunity.

Gabriela M. Guzmán (L’23) is a student of the LL.M. in national and global health law at Georgetown Law.

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