Global Health: BMC Medicine at the CUGH 2013 conference

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BMC Medicine recently attended the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH 2013) conference on global health, which took place in Washington D.C. from the 14th-16th March. Around 1400 delegates participated, with a broad range of expertise, such as those involved in general medicine, surgery, policy making, and governance, reflecting the broad scope of this field.

The conference was particularly exciting because of the recently published Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (GBD 2010) – a series of articles on how the international disease burden has changed since 1990. Although people are living longer due to decreases in the burden of infectious diseases and malnutrition, non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, are on the rise. Chris Murray, one of the lead authors of this landmark set of articles, gave an excellent presentation summarising the findings, and demonstrating his research facility’s visualisation tool of the data. One of the future aims of the study is to expand analysis of the data, add health forecasts and track health expenditure. It is hoped that this ambitious project will eventually be able to link the size of each disease burden with various risk factors, which one can then use to create policies in order to address the problem.

Global heath aims to improve health and achieve equity in the health status of all, regardless of their economic situation. This is of particular importance in resource-limited settings, and also in countries without sufficient health coverage, since healthcare expenditure due to disease or injury can often mean a family crossing into poverty, and healthcare systems may not have the resources needed to appropriately treat an individual.

How should we address such disparities in health? Universal healthcare, discussed in the opening keynote lecture, is an obvious strategy, but this has limitations with regards to the resources of that country. One such resource is the healthcare system itself, created by the body of healthcare professionals.  Unfortunately, ‘brain drain’ has become a problem in, for instance, African countries, where healthcare professionals will leave their country for better financial opportunities, creating a healthcare void. This was discussed in a session on the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) – a medical education program aiming to increase physician retention in African countries. Fitzhugh Mullan and colleagues discussed the challenges and results from this intervention.

Dispersion of knowledge is a powerful way in which to improve health, but this, too, is subject to inequality. Agnes Binagwaho, who is Minister for Health in Rwanda, gave a series of excellent lectures on global health policy. One of the issues raised, and particularly important for global health, was access of evidence based medicine for resource-limited settings. She highlighted that such evidence should be freely accessible for all, and advocated that global health articles should be published in Open Access journals.

As an Open Access journal itself, BMC Medicine is committed to providing ‘knowledge for all’. We have recently launched our Medicine for Global Health article collection, which aims to explore health care innovations and policies, health economics and implementation, and research into the control and treatment of communicable and non-communicable diseases that have implications for global health. Articles offering novel insights into public health initiatives, health care policies, economics, and research into the control and treatment of communicable and non-communicable diseases that have implications for global health are invited to be submitted to BMC Medicine as part of this article collection.