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Johan Mackenbach

Johan MackenbachHead of the Department

The Netherlands are an oasis of health in a world full of disease and premature death. There may still be scope for considerable improvement of population health within the Netherlands, but the greatest challenges lie outside our country's borders. To see this we need not go far: the gap in life expectancy with many countries in Central and Eastern Europe is already substantial. And disparities are truly gigantic when we compare population health in high income countries with that in low income countries on other continents.

This unequal world is becoming smaller and smaller, and more interconnected by the day. Globalization is affecting us all, whether it is in our daily or professional lives, and touches everything from household commodities to jobs and from mass entertainment to health. Our food comes from all around the world, we travel a thousand kilometers even for a short holiday, and the internet connects us to family members and colleagues as if geographical distance no longer counts.

Globalization also has important implications for population health. Shorter traveling times do not only benefit tourists but microorganisms as well, and epidemics can travel the world in
a few days. International connectedness translates into large migration flows, which have made high income countries less homogeneous with regard to health problems and health demands. Globalization fuels world-wide income inequalities, which have become more visible and less easy to ignore. These inequalities are a reminder that prosperity in the North is the flipside of poverty in the South, and that we are co-responsible for health problems in low income countries.

Globalization creates new challenges and opportunities for public health. Our department's research and education programs are increasingly global in character. Our research supports infectious disease control in Africa and Asia. We participate, and sometimes lead, international consortia investigating determinants of population health and effectiveness of prevention programs on several continents. We are developing new teaching programs in global health, together with colleagues from other university departments.

Public health should be open to the world.

Johan Mackenbach