By Senator Bill Frist, MD
(Yale Law & Policy Review, 2007)
The twenty-first century has seen the rise of a new nexus, one that generates a remarkable opportunity for medicine and health to serve as a powerful currency for peace. Two trends define this nexus. The first is globalization and all the interconnections this phenomenon has produced among populations previously isolated from one another in almost every regard. The second is a wave of scientific, technological, and public health advances that have dramatically improved our capacity to provide quality healthcare to more individuals here at home-and to others around the globe.
Human history is benchmarked by wars and plagues and is punctuated by seemingly far shorter periods of peace and health. War may arise from causes such as economic and political oppression, an overwhelming sense of despair regarding the prospects for a brighter future, and the belief that physical security is no longer certain. But amidst wars and plagues, societies seem less inclined to fight with one another when they are healthy and hopeful.
Health is a unique vehicle that crosses boundaries in times of war and distress and in times of suffering and turmoil. Working to improve the health of our fellow man sends a message that speaks to our common humanity and serves as a vehicle for peacemakers. It is not only in our national interest to understand this principle, to demonstrate it, and to exploit it; it is in our human interest to do so as well.
Health transcends political and cultural boundaries. Facilitating access to healthcare provides tangible benefits. Chief among them are a better, safer world and a powerful sense of hope. With health comes family. With health comes opportunity. With health comes productivity.
Globalization opens the door more prominently to the role of health diplomacy. In today's era of integration, interdependence, and global connectivity, foreign policy is appropriately being broadened to incorporate health matters more directly and with greater visibility. What happens to a single individual, wherever she might live, can affect not just a local community but the economy and the social fabric of a nation on the other side of the world. In recent times, we have seen the deeply disruptive impacts new health scares such as SARS and mad cow disease can have on travel and trade. We have seen the destructive threat of HIV/AIDS, drug-resistant tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases that do not respect geographical borders.
And the new reality of global interdependence, emerging diseases, potential pandemics, and public health underscores the advantage of identifying shared values and interests among societies around the world. The health of an individual is more directly tied to the health of a community and of populations throughout the world than ever before.