When I observe the world around me, I am often reminded that humanity will be faced with increasingly challenging public health concerns to address, and the next generation of global health leaders will be on the front lines of this effort. Our ability to mitigate the issues of tomorrow will depend heavily upon the global health workforce that we are developing today.
Did anyone else grow up watching Captain Planet and the Planeteers? They made it fun and cool to want to save the planet. In the television series, the Spirit of the Earth brings together five kids from all over the world with a common passion for fighting all of the forces which sought to threaten the well-being of the planet, and she gives them each a magic ring with which they battle their foes. The passion of the Planeteers stayed with me throughout my formative years, and even led me to pursue environmental sciences in college.
As an undergraduate and a master’s student at the University of Maryland, College Park, I had countless discussions with classmates about our environment and its future. We all agreed: Climate change was, and still remains, one of the most pressing issues in global health. It will continue to increase the prevalence of extreme weather events and vector-borne diseases; lower air quality, water quality, and food production; and lead to 250,000 additional deaths per year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is critical that we, and the generations after us, remain steadfast in our efforts to counteract the already-present effects of climate change, in spite of the actions of the current U.S. Administration in withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.
In order to effectively address these and other global health problems, we must invest in our future global health leaders. We must attract the expertise of individuals from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds. We need sociologists who understand that to come up with viable solutions to global health inequities, we must understand the systemic and institutional causes that created them in the first place. We need economists able to underscore the benefits of protecting human lives and our environment in terms which often resonate most deeply with politicians: dollars and cents. We need health care professionals with the skills and knowledge to directly save lives. We need scientists to conduct the research upon which sound policy decisions can be based. We need educators with the ability to energize the next generation of global health leaders and communicate critical health information to the general public. Most of all, we must find ways to bring all of these individuals together toward common goals.
We may not have magic rings at our disposal, like the Planeteers, but what my generation lacks in magic, we make up for in our ability to innovate and mobilize each other around causes we believe in.