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Global Health Issues in Nursing

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The world is more interconnected today than at any other time in history, and the health issues affecting one region are likely to impact others, as demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are urgent issues that global healthcare leaders must address, and nurses can be at the forefront of that movement.

Why the Focus on Global Health?

While there have been discussions of global health and related initiatives since the 1940s when the World Health Organization (WHO) was founded, it has become a greater focus in recent decades and particularly since the start of the pandemic. Governments are working collaboratively with the healthcare sector and various organizations to reduce preventable infectious diseases, including COVID-19 and tuberculosis, which spread quickly in densely populated areas as well as via interstate and international travels.

Noncommunicable diseases — such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer — are responsible for as many as seven out of 10 deaths, according to the WHO, and are a significant strain on nations’ healthcare systems and populations. The development of robust screening programs is a critical step for early detection, but it is often costly and difficult to do so if the infrastructure is lacking.

What Are the Most Urgent Global Healthcare Issues?

Although many issues are affecting the delivery of care around the globe, some of the most pressing concerns include:

Vaccine distribution. Perhaps the most critical issue currently facing the world is the efficient distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Due to the sheer number of people who require inoculation and the necessary timing and storage conditions, the vaccination rollout is complex. It requires the coordination of many different healthcare workers, organizations, manufacturers and government entities. Beyond COVID-19, vaccinations for other communicable diseases, like measles and whooping cough, must still be carried out to prevent resurgences that can overwhelm the healthcare system.

Equitable healthcare. There can be a correlation between a person’s socioeconomic status and the quality of care they receive because as one lowers, so does the other. This dynamic has negative effects that last a lifetime. According to the WHO, inequitable healthcare results in an 18-year life expectancy difference between wealthy and developing countries. There are also significant gaps occurring within individual countries, cities and communities. This creates a substantial mental, emotional and financial burden for low-to-moderate-income families.

Climate change. Sea levels and extreme weather events are on the rise. These incidents displace people from their homes, expose them to the elements and create an increased risk of infection and disease if access to clean water, food, housing and medical care is not maintained.

How Can Nurses Help Solve Emerging Global Healthcare Challenges?

The world faces unprecedented healthcare challenges, and any solutions will require a multifaceted approach. Nurses represent the largest portion of healthcare workers worldwide. Increased efforts to educate nurses and continue equipping them with industry know-how will be crucial to filling the worldwide need.

In the United States alone, there are more than 3.8 million RNs, per data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Due to their tremendous influence in every aspect of care delivery, nurses have the potential to be a driving force in addressing health issues, both at home and abroad. They can achieve this by:

  • Working or volunteering in COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts, whether that means giving injections at community clinics or coordinating informational campaigns with a local health department.
  • Educating patients about nutrition, disease prevention and how various vaccines contribute to personal, community and global health.
  • Advancing their educations so that they are positioned to have a greater voice in crafting relevant solutions and policies. Individuals who earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), for example, can be instrumental in rethinking the delivery of care through their involvement in administrative, leadership and research roles.

On a Global Scale

Nursing is a respected and well-established profession throughout the world. Because of this status, nurses can be influential in providing care and developing policies that address the emerging global health issues.

Learn more about The University of Alabama in Huntsville’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice program.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Nursing Fact Sheet

National Center for Biotechnology Information: Revista Latino-Americana de Enfermagem: Our Future Is Global – Nursing Leadership and Global Health

World Health Organization:
Global Health Histories
10 Global Health Issues to Track in 2021
Urgent Health Challenges for the Next Decade
Report of the Policy Dialogue Meeting on the Nursing Workforce

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