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Global Health Leadership: A Comprehensive Overview of an Essential Field

April 14, 2024

Recent years have proven health care is not immune to the forces of politics, globalization, economics, and other large-scale factors. Global health leadership has emerged as a multinational effort to help maintain and strengthen global health in the face of significant division and challenges. 

Global health has long been used as a part of diplomatic relations designed to enhance national security and increase international influence. Health leaders are now essential to these efforts — but the calling can be a tough one. Leaders in the sphere of global health need comprehensive training and education that prepares them for the challenges and opportunities they will encounter.

Defining Global Health Leadership

Life expectancy around the world has increased over the past decades. So has the need for comprehensive solutions to global health challenges. Public health leaders are positioned to affect positive change by working across the boundaries of politics and economics to find answers to pressing problems such as pandemics and complex health emergencies. That is why global health leadership must transcend national and agency frameworks. 

Typically, a variety of entities work together in the global health sphere, including:

  • Governments
  • Individuals
  • Health agencies 
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

Vaccination programs and other major health initiatives also play a major part in global health. Individual providers, local clinics, volunteer groups, and international organizations all commonly work together on such initiatives.  

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The Role of Global Health Agencies

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a prominent example of a global health agency. As part of the United Nations (UN), WHO contributes to studying and managing health on a global scale. However, WHO is limited in its ability to address the ever-increasing wellness needs of the global population. This is part of the reason effective global health leadership requires interdependent relationships between parties that sometimes have very different political and social aims. 

International organizations that do not deal directly with health can also impact global health initiatives. For example, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank can also promote and enhance global health through their programs. Coordinating with both national and international health agencies is key for stakeholders in these organizations who want to support improved health outcomes worldwide. 

The Positive Impact of Global Health Leadership

As a general rule, government leaders across the globe want to improve population health outcomes, but they are often at odds when it comes to politics and economics. Global health leaders who have the skills to negotiate through these differences and find solutions to emergency health issues are essential to global well-being. After all, strong global health programs can have a significant impact on both the physical and economic health of every nation. 

The United States is one of the primary leaders in the arena of global health. Officials and health professionals at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) work closely with their counterparts in other nations to safeguard health by: 

  • Sharing information about outbreaks and emerging disease threats 
  • Coordinating national responses to pandemics such as COVID-19
  • Conducting health-related research 
  • Advocating for global health initiatives
  • Building diplomatic relationships with diplomats and health professionals
  • Identifying private and nonprofit partners to assist with health initiatives 

U.S. intervention in global health is a type of diplomatic effort that is sometimes referred to as “soft power.” Global health leaders can use their influence to support international communities, impact health outcomes worldwide, and help increase positive impressions of the U.S. abroad.  

Careers in Global Health Leadership

Those who want to become leaders in global health can choose to work in a variety of industries and sectors, such as health care, scientific research, government, law, policy development, and the nonprofit arena. All of these sectors collaborate, so many positions play an essential role in improving global health outcomes. 

Some of the potential global health leadership careers for aspiring public health professionals include:

  • Health policy manager 
  • Health attorney
  • Physician
  • NGO director 
  • Epidemiologist
  • Public health advisor
  • Public health researcher
  • Medical and health services manager

Training to Advance Your Career in Global Health Leadership

Global health programs and initiatives can only thrive when they are headed by leaders who understand the dynamics of public health on a global scale. Effective global health leadership requires a combination of health care knowledge and strong diplomacy skills. Leaders who want to safeguard public health while contributing to national security must develop these competencies. 

The Tulane University School of Health and Tropical Medicine is the nation’s first school of public health. The Tulane Online DrPH in Leadership, Advocacy, and Equity can prepare students to become equity-minded public health leaders. Focused on communication and real-world applications in addition to research, this program helps students hone their knowledge and skills as health leaders to become agents of change for global health. 

Take the first step toward improving your global health leadership skills by learning more about the program’s practice-oriented approach today.   

Advance Your Public Health Career with a DrPH in in Leadership, Advocacy, and Equity

Pursue Your Degree Online From Tulane University
Find Out More

Recommended Readings 

The Role of Leadership in Public Health Advocacy

Effective Leadership in Public Health: Essential Skills

DrPH vs. PhD: What’s the Difference?


Annals of Global Health, “Training Global Health Leaders: A Critical Review of Competency Gaps”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC Global Health Strategy

Indeed, “19 Global Health Degree Jobs (Plus Duties and Average Salary)”

Journal of Global Health, Global Public Health Leadership: The Vital Element in Managing Global Health Crises”

National Library of Medicine, “Global Health Leadership and the Future Role of the United States: Global Health Leadership”