Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Week 1: Defining Health and Development

Welcome to my first health and development blog post.  I've heard that the beginning is a very good place to start and that's exactly where our course led off, with one our first activities consisting of defining "health" and "development" as individual concepts.  They both have several potential definitions, depending on the context.  My own personal perspectives are heavily influenced by my past experiences and education, starting with health.

Throughout my undergraduate degree courses, health was described as having seven dimensions: physical, emotional, spiritual, occupational, economic, psychological and social (or cultural) wellness, all of which contribute to an overall state of wellbeing.  Having spent over a year as a climate change researcher, I have since added environmental health to the mix.  It was also explained to us that health did not simply refer to the lack of illness or condition, but actual wellness in all respects.  Those two notions of health have stayed with me and shaped the way that I think of health. 

(Modified from the "Seven Dimensions of Wellness" from North Dakota State University

Compared to the formal definitions outlined in class, mine is closest to that which has been put forth by the World Health Organization (WHO): “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmary. A resource for everyday life, not the object of living. Emphasizes social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities – health is a complex outcome”.

Development on the other hand, was not something that we touched on even remotely in my first four years of university.  As a result, my definition has arisen solely from the education I've received during my masters here at the University of Queensland and how that knowledge has made me look at my own experiences and the world around me.  To begin with, I define development as a change or evolution from one state of being to another.  In the context of countries, I see it as encompassing a number of factors including infrastructure, economic stability, growth and GDP, security, the distribution of wealth, standard of living, freedom, respect for human rights, social security and all that those entail.

This definition is likely closest to development as a “multi-dimensional process involving reorganization and reorientation of entire economic AND social system”.

So what do my opinions on health and development say about me?  Hopefully they speak to a broad understanding of these terms far beyond the narrow labels of "sick" or "not sick" and "developed" or "not developed".   I've lived, been ill and gone to school/worked in four very different countries, three of them developed (Canada, Italy and Australia) and one not (Uganda).  Comparing those experiences has helped me to recognize that health and development are just general concepts that are actually made up of many smaller factors, most of which we don't notice until circumstances change.  For example, I don't often think about how nice it is to breathe in and out through my nose until I get a head cold.  Then suddenly accomplishing even the easiest of tasks become more difficult, all because of that one small problem.

Health and development are also very subjective states.  For instance, someone with a particular condition may feel well despite being viewed as unwell by others and society (and vice versa).  In a similar respect, low income countries are often at comparatively different stages of development.  So at which point is a country considered developed?  What does it mean to be truly healthy?  How are these things measured and who decides at what point the scale tips?  Those designations are largely given out by bodies such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank.  But, in many ways, health and development are in the eyes of the beholder.

As if health and development weren't complex enough on their own, they also have a very complicated interdependent relationship.  I'm truly looking forward to delving deeper into these issues throughout the course of this semester and documenting what I learn in these posts.  


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