Julio Frenk: Health's Bridge to Peace

Julio Frenk: Health's Bridge to Peace

The question is not whether globalization is changing the world, but how we keep pace with it. On the health front, that means managing microbial traffic as well as lifestyles and health products, services, and systems that travel from one country to the next. The ultimate challenge, says Mexico’s Minister of Health, Julio Frenk,“is to build a world order characterized by peace in the midst of diversity.” Frenk, who received his M.P.H. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, believes that health itself may be central to our efforts to build such an order. Frenk’s thoughts on globalization and health appeared in the winter 2006 issue of Michigan Today, from which the following is excerpted. 

"Instead of asserting one’s identity by rejecting or destroying what is different, we must try to soften collisions, balance claims, and reach compromises. In this way, we may try living according to what Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, has called a basic code of mutual coexistence.

Health may contribute to this pursuit because it involves those domains that unite all human beings. It is there, in birth, in sickness, in recovery, and ultimately in death that we can all find our common humanity. More today than ever, health is a bridge to peace, a common ground, a source of shared security.

But for this to happen, we must renew international cooperation for health. I suggest three key elements for such renewal, three “e’s”: exchange, evidence, and empathy.

Health systems around the world are facing similar challenges. The communications revolution provides the opportunity to exchange information about these challenges and about the initiatives to deal with them.

To be informative, such exchange should be based on sound evidence about alternatives, so that we may build a solid knowledge base of what really works, which may be transferred across countries when its culturally, politically, and financially reasonable.

But there is another value. The British philosopher Isaiah Berlin proposed the comparative study of other cultures as an antidote against intolerance, stereotypes, and the dangerous delusion by individuals, tribes, states, ideologies or religions of being the sole possessors of truth. And this leads us to the third element, empathy, that human characteristic which allows us to emotionally participate in a foreign reality, understand it, relate to it and, in the end, value the core elements that make us all members of the human race.

As we engage in the process of renewal, we would do well to remember the words of a universal person, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Let us continue to weave together the destiny of better health for all the inhabitants of our common world."

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Julio Frenk"It is there, in birth, in sickness, in recovery, and ultimately in death that we can all find our common humanity."

--Julio Frenk, Mexico's Minister of Health