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What is global health?

In recent years, the term ‘global health’ has grown in popularity and visibility. The progression from ‘international health’ and ‘public health’ illustrates a continuing development of philosophy, attitude and practice.

The term global health aims to highlight health issues that transcend national borders or have a global political and economic impact.  Whether health is viewed in terms of burden of disease or root causes of disease, global health issues are of relevance to all communities on earth. 

Just as the term global health continues to evolve, so too do the many contexts in which health professionals can contribute throughout the world.  The opportunities are as endless as they are diverse – from local advocacy to global health policy, from humanitarian assistance to public health projects, from teaching to research. 

How to get involved:

Global Health Group (GHG).  A subcommittee of AMSA, there is a global health interest group at every medical school in Australia.  Each group works within the local university and wider community to raise awareness about global health issues.  Several groups now oversee large-scale medical aid projects, and others coordinate in-country research and volunteer placements for medical students.

Check out GHG projects, events and campaigns you can get involved in

AMSA Global Health Conference.  This national conference brings together medical students from throughout Australia and overseas to explore and debate current issues influencing global health policy and practice.  As the only student-run academic forum held in Oceania that focuses solely on global health, the conference is a unique platform for sharing knowledge, exchanging ideas, highlighting initiatives and driving AMSA’s position on global health issues.

Learn more about GHC 2016

International Federation of Medical Student Associations (IFMSA).  This is the global body charged with representing the interests of medical student associations around the world and is recognised by the UN and WHO as the international forum for medical students.  Opportunities also exist for students to undertake part of their medical studies overseas through the federations exchange program.

Find out more about IFMSA

Global Health Symposia.  A Melbourne based lecture series run by junior doctors and supported by AMA VIC in conjunction with the Nossal Institute for Global Health.

Read more about the Nossal Institute 

Global Health Connect.  A team of Australian based junior doctors, allied and public health professionals who are dedicated to creating global health initiatives, opportunities and awareness. 

See how you can get involved

Australian Medical Association.  The AMA develops public health policy on global health issues that are relevant to Australia, including climate change, Indigenous health and chronic disease.

Get involved by becoming a member today!

Australian Council for International Development (ACFID).  Unites Australia’s non-government aid and international development organisations to strengthen their collective impact against poverty.

Read more

Global Health Gateway.  An online resource aiming to inspire and equip everyone in Australia and New Zealand to be passionate and active in global health.

Get more information

There are numerous advocacy groups that engage in the global health space and would welcome medical practitioner members.  Membership of these groups provides an opportunity to engage in policy making and representative activities.  Organisations include the Medical Association for the Prevention of WarDoctors for the Environment and the Public Health Association of Australia.

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Working Abroad

Working abroad appeals across the whole spectrum of the profession – from medical students on electives; young doctors who want some international experience and for humanitarian reasons; to skilled and qualified specialists who want to share their skills and knowledge with colleagues for the benefit of the communities they serve.

There are many opportunities to explore if this appeals to you.

Overseas medical training and professional work have the potential to enhance the breadth and depth of knowledge for medical students and junior doctors – and can provide them with challenges and experiences that are not available in Australia. It can also help Australian students and doctors to make a small contribution to global health.

"A Guide to Working Abroad for Australian Medical Students and Junior Doctors" has been developed by the AMA Council of Doctors-in-Training (AMACDT) and Australian Medical Students' Association (AMSA), in consultation with a range of Australian experts to provide evidence based and practical information on studying and training overseas – including, getting ready for the journey, managing personal and professional affairs during a placement and what needs to be done once you return home.

This 90 page guide is the gold standard for any medical student or junior doctor seeking to organise safe and rewarding placements and rotations abroad.  Senior doctors will also find the contents of this guide invaluable.

Read our guide to working abroad

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Contemporary global health issues and the AMA

The AMA has views on a range of contemporary global health issues and those highlighted below are just examples.  Please click here for more information of what the AMA stands for on issues that impact on people and health globally.

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Children in detention

The Federal Government’s refugee policies came under attack at a recent forum organised by the AMA to highlight the enormous harm caused by indefinite detention.

As doctors at Brisbane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital remain steadfast in their refusal to discharge a one-year-old girl who faces being sent back to the immigration detention centre on Nauru, hundreds attended the AMA forum held in Sydney on 21 February condemning the treatmernt of asylum seekers.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler, addressed the forum, highlighted concerns about the standard of health care provided to asylum seekers, particularly those held in offshore facilities, and called for the immediate release of all children currently being detained.

The forum, attended by leading clinicians, entertainers, commentators, jurists and religious leaders, comes as the Government advances plans to deport 267 asylum seekers, including 72 children, to Nauru after seeing off a High Court challenge to the legality of its offshore detention regime.

In a landmark decision, the High Court rejected the claim by a Bangladeshi woman detained by immigration authorities that the Government’s arrangement with Nauru breached the Constitution.

The nation’s highest court ruled that the Commonwealth’s memorandum of understanding with the Nauruan Government was authorised by section 61 of the Constitution, and its move to hire Transfield to operate the detention centre on the island was “a valid law”.

Releasing an AMA Position Statement on the health care of asylum seekers late last year, Professor Owler said that although the number of children being held in detention had declined dramatically under the Coalition Government, the practise needed to end completely.

“Detention has severe adverse effects on the health of all asylum seekers, but the harms in children are more serious,” Professor Owler said late last year. “Some of the children have spent half their lives in detention, which is inhumane and totally unacceptable.

“These children are suffering extreme physical and mental health issues, including severe anxiety and depression. Many of these conditions will stay with them throughout their lives.”

Meanwhile, the Government is being frustrated by the action of doctors, nurses and hospital administrators in refusing to discharge children who face being returned to detention.

Since 12 February, doctors at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital have refused to release baby Asha, who was evacuated there from Nauru after being badly burnt by boiling water.

A hospital spokesman told the ABC that the child would not be discharged until a “suitable home environment is identified, as is the case with every child who presents at hospital”.

The spokesman said decisions relating to treatment and discharge were made by qualified clinical staff “with the goal of delivering the best outcome”.

The decision is a rebuke to the Government over the quality of care it provides for detainees, particularly those held offshore.

It echoes similar action taken by doctors at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital late last year.

The AMA said all asylum seekers and refugees should have universal access to basic health care, something that was “clearly not happening.”

The AMA Position Statement on the Health Care of Asylum Seekers and Refugees can be viewed at: https://ama.com.au/position-statement/health-care-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-2011-revised-2015

The AMA has called for:

One - a moratorium on asylum seeker children being sent back to detention centres.  

Two - the immediate release of all children from both offshore and onshore detention centres into the community where they can be properly cared for.  

Three - the establishment of a transparent, national statutory body of clinical experts, independent of government, with the power to investigate and report to the Parliament on the health and welfare of asylum seekers and refugees.  

And, four - if the Government or Opposition cannot provide satisfactory health care to people seeking asylum, then their policies should be revisited.  

For Dr Owler’s address to the forum click here www.ama.com.au/media/transcript-asylum-seeker-health-baby-asha

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Climate Change

Human health is ultimately dependent on the health of the planet and its ecosystem. The AMA recognises the latest findings regarding the science of climate change, the role of humans, past observations and future projections. The consequences of climate change have serious direct and indirect, observed and projected health impacts both globally and in Australia. There is inequity in the distribution of these health impacts both within and between countries, with some groups being particularly vulnerable.

Observed scientific data show that Australia’s climate has warmed since national records began in 1910, and especially since 1950, with mean surface air temperature warming by 0.9°C since 1910.Sea-surface temperatures in the Australian region have warmed by 0.9°C since 1900. 2013 was the warmest year on record in Australia, with seven of Australia's ten warmest years on record having occurred in the 13 years from 2002. 2011 was the single year that was cooler-than-average in the past decade. Record-breaking summer temperatures in Australia over 2012–2013, are very unlikely to have been caused by natural variability alone.

For further information click here: https://ama.com.au/position-statement/ama-position-statement-climate-change-and-human-health-2004-revised-2015

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Health care of asylum seekers and refugees

The Australian Medical Association affirms that those who are seeking, or who have been granted, asylum within Australia have the right to receive appropriate medical care without discrimination, regardless of citizenship, visa status, or ability to pay. Like all people seeking health care, asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, or under the protection of the Australian Government, should be treated with compassion, respect, and dignity. 

In addition to suffering the same health problems as the general population, asylum seekers and refugees are at particular risk from a range of conditions including psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and the physical effects of persecution and torture. They may also suffer the effects of poor dental hygiene, poor nutrition and diet, and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, which may be more common in their countries of origin.

To determine their specific health needs, all asylum seekers and refugees should undergo comprehensive and timely health assessments in a culturally appropriate manner by suitably trained medical practitioners as part of a primary health care team. This assessment will be used to establish ongoing care with appropriate and descriptive records of asylum seekers’ health being recorded on a regular basis to enable multidisciplinary teams and healthcare providers to give effective ongoing care.

All asylum seekers and refugees should have access to the same level of health care as all Australian citizens. In addition, it should be ensured that their special needs, including cultural, linguistic, and health-related, are addressed.

A national statutory body of clinical experts independent of government should be established with the power to investigate and advise on the health and welfare of asylum seekers and refugees.

All asylum seekers and refugees, independent of their citizenship or visa status, should have universal access to basic health care, counselling and educational and training opportunities. Refugees and asylum seekers living in the community should also have access to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), state welfare and employment support, and appropriate settlement services.  Immigration policies that restrict the social and economic rights of disadvantaged groups of people, such as asylum seekers and refugees, can have adverse impacts on their health and wellbeing.

Health and welfare service providers for asylum seekers in detention and in the community should have access to translation and interpretive services and be adequately resourced and integrated at state and federal level. This includes increased staff education, training, and support.

Refugees, and asylum seekers living in the community, should have continued access to culturally appropriate health care, including specialist care, to meet their ongoing physical and mental health needs, including rehabilitation.

More research is needed into the health status and health care of asylum seekers and refugees, both within the community and in detention centres, to assist medical practitioners in the care of these groups, and the development of appropriate services.

More research is needed into the impact of immigration controls, such as the prolonged, indeterminate use of detention, on the health of asylum seekers, including those eventually determined to be refugees.

To read the whole position statement, click here: https://ama.com.au/position-statement/health-care-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-2011-revised-2015

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Global Health Vocational Training

 A list of resources and references to help you learn more about specific organisations, opportunities, and the evolution of global health.

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International work opportunities 

The list below is not comprehensive and are suggested as a starting point only. 

Disclaimer: the AMA is not recommending any of the above organisations, but merely providing them as options for individuals to explore and make their own assessments

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DISCLAIMER: 

This material is generic in nature and is made available on the understanding that the AMA is not engaged in rendering professional advice. Before relying on the material provided, users should carefully evaluate its accuracy, currency, completeness and relevance for their purposes, and should obtain professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances where necessary.Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information on this Resource Hub, the AMA or its employees cannot be held responsible for any loss or damage arising to any person as a result of using this site.