Urgently Creating the Better in Global Health

Richard Marlink

Publication Date: 09/01/2017

In this issue of the Hastings Center Report, Govind Persad and Ezekiel Emanuel argue that “[t]he provision of cheaper, less effective health care is frequently the most effective way of promoting health and realizing the ethical values of utility, equality, and priority to the worst off.” I agree that we should not let the perfect get in the way of the good, but just providing cheaper, less effective treatment for utilitarian or other reasons is not a comprehensive approach to global health. In my experience as an on-the-ground global health practitioner, the choice is never that simple. As time passes, dynamics evolve, and so should the responses to a global health problem. The goal of global health should be urgently improving responses toward better access to care and equity in health, without which the good may become the enemy of the better. In other words, there are places and times in which the approach Persad and Emanuel describe may be appropriate, but their recommendations fail to account for the realities of a population-level medical emergency and for the fact that once an emergency is initially or partially addressed in any setting, time can be the enemy, if it breeds complacency.