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Defining global health as public health somewhere else
  1. Nicholas B King1,2,3,
  2. Alissa Koski2,3
  1. 1 Biomedical Ethics Unit, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  2. 2 Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  3. 3 Institute for Health and Social Policy, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nicholas B King; nicholas.king{at}

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Summary box

  • Many definitions of global health have been offered, but none properly distinguish this field from public health more generally. We propose the following definition: global health is public health somewhere else.

  • Our definition encourages consideration of the normative dimensions of global health, and their impact on aspects of training and practice that lead to unintended consequences and critiques.

  • Practising public health somewhere else often involves tacit assumptions of an expertise gradient, limited understanding of accountability and inefficient interventions.


There are many definitions of global health,1–3 but none capture what is truly distinctive about the field. In particular, beyond tautologically emphasising the ‘global’ nature of its efforts, none properly distinguish ‘global health’ from ‘public health’.4 5

We propose the following definition: global health is public health somewhere else.

Conventional definitions of global health tend to focus on its methods, which are generally indistinguishable from public health, or its aspirations, which are well intentioned but do little to describe what is distinctive about the field. We focus instead on a concept that we believe unifies the field. We offer this definition to encourage reflection on the assumptions that underlie many global health efforts. Apart from its economy of words, our definition has the virtue of directing attention to the why and how, as well as the what of global health. Global health as a field is not distinguished by its aspirations, methods of research and practice, intervention strategies or even geographical area per se, but rather by a particular relationship between its practitioners and its recipients: a person engages in global health when they practise public health somewhere—a community, a political entity, a geographical space—that they do not call home.

Focusing on this relationship invites us to confront the normative dimensions of global health head on. It urges …

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