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Health problems don’t stop at the border

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Cross-border health issues and the social determinants of health should be on the agenda of the G20 summit of national leaders, according to AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler.

In a major speech to the Global Health Conference organised by the Australian Medical Students Association, A/Professor Owler said there was growing realisation that many health issues, such as climate change, infectious diseases, food safety, and obesity, required coordinated cross-border action.

“What someone does in another country affects our health here in this country,” he said. “Another country’s social policy, its economic policy, its agricultural policy, its health policy – all have real ramifications for everyone else.”

A/Professor Owler said that “you don’t require a passport” to witness the challenges of global health.

He said the significance for health of social determinants such as the quality of housing, opportunities for education and employment, and the scale of economic activity, was all too apparent among Indigenous Australians, whose health and life expectancy lag well behind that of other Australians.

The AMA, A/Professor Owler said, had two roles – to advocate and shape policies to improve global health, such as its work to educate the community on the health threats of climate change, obesity, alcohol and tobacco and, secondly, to facilitate opportunities for those embarking on a medical career, or seeking to take it in a new direction, to train and work in global health.

“Junior doctors and specialty trainees are increasingly looking for global health-related learning and networking opportunities,” he told the conference. “Enabling junior doctors to have meaningful and rewarding experiences in developing countries can lead to a lifelong commitment to global health practice and advocacy that benefits both resource-rich and poor partners alike.”

Those seeking training opportunities abroad, particularly doctors in training, faced a number of barriers, A/Professor Owler said, including a lack of recognition from education providers, uncertain supervision arrangements, inadequate preparation, cost and loss of income, and personal security.

But the AMA National Conference in May heard of several initiatives, some involving medical colleges including the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, to address these issues.

A/Professor Owler said colleges struggling with the issue could also consider entering into partnership with organisations such as Australian Volunteers International, which had experience placing and supporting people in projects in many different countries.

“I think that we have a tremendous opportunity in Australia to train doctors who are equipped to engage in regional health challenges in a global context, who can form global health partnerships, and meet our increasingly diverse future health challenges,” he said.

Adrian Rollins