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Globalisation and Public Health: On Science and the Human Right to Health

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Science provides a systematic body of evidence intended to serve as the rational basis for policy formulation. But, when ideological forces drive the global health agenda, the rightful role that evidence can play is thwarted. Unless scientists are true to their mission of pursuing the public interest over any other interest, the scientific enterprise can be marginalized and the interests of those bent on maintaining the status quo will be permitted to dominate.

Two examples are presented in the first two chapters in this part of the book. These show how failing to act works to the detriment of the health and well-being of both present and future generations. These chapters highlight questions of the human right to health and inter-generational equity. In the final of the three chapters in this part of the book, new technologies and approaches in the applied science of cancer epidemiology could serve to untangle the connections between environmental determinants and epigenetic phenomena to better protect human health in a degrading world.

First, Donald Spady, in his thoughtful essay (Chapter 22), anticipates the nature of life for people as global ecological integrity declines and Earth's resources, particularly fossil fuels, decline with costs climbing out of reach of most individuals, even in the developed world. He argues that the environmental, physical, economic, and social infrastructure essential to today's society will become increasingly fragile and prone to failure. As a result, public health will be challenged to perform its preventive functions and, on the primary care front, hospitals will be hard-pressed to remain viable. Spady appeals to governments and business leaders to implement policies that will help societies globally to adapt to a new reality that acknowledges their dependence upon ecological integrity as well as on the human constructs of society. He points to a collective denial that is not allowing leaders to act responsibly in protecting the health and well-being of both present and future generations. The human right to health is being undermined by a societal disregard and inability to implement actions that science has been suggesting for decades.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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