January 28, 2022, by School of Medicine
50 at 50: Students for Global Health
Consider the following facts. Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai are names that have become just as recognisable as Hugh Grant and Taylor Swift. All 10 of the Guardian’s most powerful images of 2021 depict the impacts of global health crises. More than half of young people across the UK report experiencing some degree of anxiety about climate change. Put together, they paint a telling picture of our society and the things we care about. From vaccine conflict to COP26 to forced displacement, 2021 showed us that we care about the health of our planet and our communities.
My own interest in these issues led me to Students for Global Health, a national student-led charity advocating for health equity through education, advocacy and community action. SfGH believes that everyone has the right to healthcare and that our health outcomes are affected by our environments just as much as our constitutions. At first, this might seem obvious. A resident of a polluted metropolis is going to struggle with their asthma more than if they lived in the countryside. Clean air equals clean breathing. Equally, then, it should be just as obvious for healthcare professionals to take an active interest in eliminating pollution to promote cleaner air. This can be done by pushing governments to introduce green spaces in urban areas, electrify public transport and build more cycle lanes. These messages are powerful when they come from healthcare workers. As people that see first-hand the impact of government policies on health, we are in a strong position to advocate for change.
When public health is ignored, there are always victims. No case is more tragic or more illustrative than that of Ella Kissi-Debrah. Ella was only nine when she passed away due to dangerous levels of air pollution that fatally exacerbated her asthma. To prevent people from suffering as Ella did, we need to strengthen our approach to public health. The same applies for structural racism that detriments health outcomes for ethnic minorities. Or reckless antibiotic use leaving us with a smaller arsenal against infections each year. The key to better health is better prevention.
With SfGH, I have had the chance to work on these issues at both a local and national level. At Nottingham, our SfGH team offers students the chance to go on ethical international electives, engage in local advocacy and promotes learning on global health topics. Being a part of these led me to joining national SfGH groups working on the impacts of climate change and race on health. Through this, I have learned to write policies, speak at national conferences, promote campaigns and create grassroots projects. It is a constant learning curve that has introduced me to thousands of inspiring students.
Before getting involved, this sort of work seemed far beyond my capabilities. I have felt small and overwhelmed. At these times, I am reminded that a single bee makes less than a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime, but along with its fellow workers, they make enough to sustain their hives through the winter. And it’s never too late to join the hive.
By Paulomi Sengupta, Medicine Student
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