Globalization & Health Care
Globalization is the term which refers to the large-scale trends which have created the global state. This term embodies the the increasingly interconnected economic, political, technological, and social environments of the current global society. Globalization also refers to the spread of capitalism and the control of an increasing number of countries by a specific number of international corporations. One of the major ramifications of globalization is 'looser' borders, especially in eastern Europe where many people are migrating throughout the European Union in search of employment and stability. Globalization brings the people of the world together politically, economically, technologically, and socially in unprecedented ways. The effect has been the movement of people from one place to another on a scale that has never been seen before. One of the significant changes brought about by this process is the globalization of privatized medical care.
Keywords Biometrics; Deregulation; Globalization; Nutriceuticals; Managed Care; Migration; Microcosm; Multinational Corporations; Privatization
Globalization is the process whereby the world's cultures, economies and people are interacting together on an unprecedented scale. An increasing number of countries are being pressured to reform their health care systems and privatization of health care is a growing international phenomenon. The other side of globalization is the movement of people, including those who are trained/educated in the health care professions. They are moving away from their home countries (often developing countries) and seeking employment in western countries. The need for health care professionals is always present and western countries can afford to pay these practitioners the kind of salary they could only dream about in their home country. So, while western countries benefit from the movement of people away from the developing world, the people in those countries suffer as a result of the 'brain drain' which takes health care professionals away from them.
Another significant result of the globalization of health care is the need to train a wide range of healthcare professionals in western medicine, and the need for western practitioners to travel to developing countries. In many ways, it's as if countries are 'trading' practitioners. The other issue is that of the spread of disease as a result of globalization. Some would suggest that the term 'global health care' might be appropriate to describe the series of issues related to globalization and health care.
Globalization of Medical Care
Globalization is changing the ways we perceive medical care and the ways it is provided. Medical systems and philosophies of health care are crossing boundaries as never before. It is likely that we will have to begin thinking of 'world health care' rather than just our country's health care. One of the primary reasons for the change in health care and the ways in can be provided is the Internet. Through this unique and still relatively new form of communication, people have unlimited access to resources. People can offer their services, including medical services, on a global scale.
Yet, as the world shrinks and our lives become inexorably intertwined with each other, there is a growing concern as to who can maintain health care standards in the new global economy. "Just like the global economy, there is no one person or group of persons in charge of global health care" (Miller, 2003, p. 114). Indeed, the existence of the global economy now provides pharmaceutical companies with unlimited markets. Many use the Internet to sell medications without prescriptions, and thus medications such as anti-depressants and anti-inflammatories, which should only be taken under a doctor's supervision, are only an email away. The availability of these medications through the Internet and on a global scale gives rise to concerns over regulations of and standards for international health care.
Another effect of globalization is the increased exposure people have to each other. In 2002 and 2003, the respiratory disease SARS spread from China all the way to Toronto, Canada. Once the spread of a serious condition, illness, or virus occurs, the question becomes who is responsible to try and contain it. SARS spread very quickly. Infected people could have general symptoms for over ten days and in that time travel internationally. By the time they arrived at their destinations, they could be very ill and have spread the virus to hundreds or even thousands of people. The development of a global economy necessitates an increased amount of international business travel which could easily result in a serious outbreak in several countries. As Schwirian notes,
With globalization there is a growing perception among many observers that the old Westphalian state system needs rethinking, since events in one state, such as a plague outbreak, can have nearly immediate and potentially devastating consequences for other states. According to this view, independent states cannot be left on their own to decide whether or not they will cooperate with other states in matters of life and death to all (2002, p. 166).
There is another pattern emerging which is that of the health crises in developed countries such as the U.S. As the developing countries rely increasingly on the western medical model, that model itself is in crisis. Western medicine is predicated on the brilliant technologies that create a highly sophisticated medical system. But, these technologies are incredibly expensive and add to the dilemma inherent in western health care. "This highlights the conundrum of Western health care systems: how to resolve the central contradiction of ever greater reliance on expensive technologies for individuals at the expense of universal, equitable health care provision" (Keaney, 2002, p.338).
The New Pharmaceuticals
As a result of globalization, many of the world's biggest pharmaceutical corporations are becoming even larger and more powerful as they merge together to create 'mega-pharmaceuticals.' Some of the combinations include SmithKline Beckman and Beecham PLC, which merged to create SmithKline Beecham, and Zeneca and Astra from Britain and Sweden respectively, which merged to create AstraZeneca. These mergers of pharmaceutical superstars creates another problem, that of a monopoly of specific pharmaceuticals and their distribution worldwide. If one of these mega-pharmaceuticals should, for example, create an HIV/AIDS vaccine, then one can only imagine the type of control they would have over the world's health. One of the outcomes of these big mergers (some of which have been successful, while others have failed) has been the growing concern of governments over their power. Miller observes, "This evolution to fewer global mega-companies will likely generate increased government intervention and trigger anti-trust concerns" (Miller, 2003, p. 131).
These mega-mergers are not only among pharmaceuticals, however. Given the enormous profit margin in their business, they are setting their sights on cornering the markets in other areas. One of these is the relatively new industry of nutriceuticals. This is a form of genetic engineering—infusing plants with more vitamins and fewer calories. In essence, some of the large pharmaceuticals are extending their power and control into the food and vitamin markets (Miller, 2003).
The positive side of this tendency towards global partnerships is the emergence of research and development partnerships which likely never would have existed otherwise. Countries such as the U.S. and Russia, for example, are working side by side on joint health issues. Globalization reveals the similar patterns of health concerns the world over. "The current age of globalization poses challenges to promote professional interaction that advances international scholarly efforts" (Meleis, as cited in Callister et al., 2006, p. 39). Combined approaches, comparative research, and international cooperation lend an enormous hand towards solving global health problems. Another benefit is the ability to access...
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