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What is considered as global health scholarship? A meta-knowledge analysis of global health journals and definitions
  1. Salma M Abdalla1,
  2. Hiwote Solomon2,
  3. Ludovic Trinquart3,
  4. Sandro Galea1
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Doctor of Public Health Program, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3Department of Biostatistics, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Salma M Abdalla; abdallas{at}


Despite the rapid growth of the global health field over the past few decades, consensus on what qualifies as global health scholarship or practice remains elusive. We conducted a meta-knowledge analysis of the titles and abstracts of articles published in 25 journals labelled as global health journals between 2001 and 2019. We identified the major topics in these journals by creating clusters based on terms co-occurrence over time. We also conducted a review of global health definitions during the same period.

The analysis included 16 413 articles. The number of journals, labelled as global health, and articles published in these journals, increased dramatically during the study period. The majority of global health publications focused on topics prevalent in low-resource settings. Governance, infectious diseases, and maternal and child health were major topics throughout the analysis period. Surveillance and disease outcomes appeared during the 2006–2010 epoch and continued, with increasing complexity, until the 2016–2019 epoch. Malaria, sexual and reproductive health, and research methodology appeared for only one epoch as major topics. We included 11 relevant definitions in this analysis. Definitions of global health were not aligned with the major topics identified in the analysis of articles published in global health journals.

These results highlight a lack of alignment between what is published as global health scholarship and global health definitions, which often advocate taking a global perspective to population health. Our analysis suggests that global health has not truly moved beyond its predecessor, international health. There is a need to define the parameters of the discipline and investigate the disconnect between what is published in global health versus how the field is defined.

  • public health

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  • Handling editor Seye Abimbola

  • Twitter @SalmaMHAbdalla

  • Contributors SMA and SG—conceived the analysis. SMA—conducted the journal major articles analysis. HS—conducted the search for global health definitions. SMA—drafted the manuscript. All authors—contributed scientifically and revised the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon request.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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