Global health is a new style of thinking and doing world health that emerges at the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. A good way to capture the apparatus of theories, institutions and practices that make up this new style of thinking and managing human life is to contrast the WHO at two different moments in time: around 1970, before the Danish tuberculosis expert Dr Halfdan Mahler became Director General; and the early 2000s, when Norway’s ex-Prime Minister, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, was the head of the Geneva-based organisation. Around 1970, public health experts working at the WHO did not use the term global health but international health or health and development. When they thought about health care and policy, they imagined: primary health care programmes; young rural populations; community health centres; infectious diseases as well as maternal and child health; decolonisation, nation-building and development; and health ministries. 30 years later or so, the picture has changed markedly. Global health has replaced international health. Populations are thought as urban and ageing. Non-communicable diseases have been added to the infectious disease burden. Ideas about globalisation and emerging economies like the BRICS have replaced discourses about modernisation and decolonisation. New actors like the World Bank, philanthropies and NGOs have emerged and partly displaced the WHO and national health ministries. Pharmaceuticals and vaccines have become dominant. New epidemiological and economics tools like the Global Burden of Disease and Disease Control Priorities have become central. And, last but not least, the language of human rights has become inescapable.
The research featured on this website takes a critical approach to this new way of thinking and doing world health, which draws on science and technology studies and post-structuralist thought. Unlike much of the literature on the topic, this approach does not advocate for or against global health, but examines how this complex apparatus has emerged in the first place and the way it has reconfigured our understandings of the government of world health and human life. More generally perhaps, critical global health studies are a sociology or anthropology of the global and the apparatuses of knowledge, institutions and practices that make it possible. What are these assemblages and how were they assembled? What are the continuities and discontinuities between the rationalities and practices of global health and those of colonial medicine or international health? What role do transnational expert and advocacy networks play in the articulation of these global health assemblages? How do these forms of knowledge, institutions and practices travel through space? What are the limits of these new rationalities and practices? How have they transformed notions of population and subjectivity? These and other related questions are the concern of critical approaches to global health.