Connecting Local Health to Global Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published on 17 December 2020

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic made international headlines, University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis was exploring the field of global health and offering students opportunities for global health education.

However, the current climate has further illuminated the importance of global health methodologies both in a time of crisis and in the decisions that pharmacists and other health care professionals make every day.

“A student who is well-versed in global health can think systemically about health trends, supply chains, socio-economic factors and other issues that affect patients on a local and global level,” explained Stephanie Lukas, Pharm.D., MPH, interim director of global health and equity education and assistant professor of pharmacy administration. “Early in the pandemic, I talked to my students about ethical and social issues, such as medication distribution during a crisis and how different medical systems deal with crises when a disease crosses national borders. Then and now they’re seeing how individual decisions affect a community and how larger socio-economic factors affect the health of an individual.”

Currently, the University offers a Bachelor of Arts in Global Health and plans to begin offering a Master of Science in Global Health and Equity in fall 2021. Both programs are designed to teach students to understand health trends that affect both local communities and the larger world.

As a pharmacist herself, Lukas says pharmacists play a unique role in global health, especially during a pandemic.

“Pharmacists are the medication experts,” explained Lukas. “Pharmacists have been key to the treatment of COVID-19 as well as the development of vaccines to help end the pandemic. On every level, throughout this public health crisis pharmacists have been developing treatments, caring for patients, checking for drug interactions and dealing with medication distribution issues that are affected by the pandemic.”

Lukas has worked in international settings and seen firsthand the connections between socio-economics and health. As a volunteer in the Peace Corps, Lukas served in rural Tanzania and witnessed patients struggling with ongoing pandemics and epidemics, such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

“While I lived in Tanzania, I was struck by how much time and energy it took just to get the things I needed to live and be healthy every day,” Lukas explained. “I see parallels to what we’re experiencing today during COVID-19. We’re spending a lot more energy trying to get the things we need to live and stay healthy. Through this experience, we can develop empathy for those who are facing health crises around the world with fewer resources.”

In addition to practicing empathy, Lukas explained that the entire University community can act as ambassadors for global health and equity, even if they are learning and working at home.

“Global health is local health,” Lukas explained. “The best thing we can do is follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and stay informed. By doing so, we can help keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy. The actions of a single individual affect a community, which in turn affects the whole world. We’ve seen how this happens in a negative way when disease spreads, but it can happen in a positive way, too.”

Lukas notes that the University works to prepare students to make these connections between individual, local and global health through global health courses focused on topics such as epidemiology, the global burden of disease and critical issues in global health.  

She says this education in global health and health equity is essential for developing health care providers who will be well prepared for future health crises and possess a greater understanding of the community factors that affect their individual patients.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for more globally-minded pharmacists and health care providers,” explained Lukas. “But global health isn’t only relevant during a pandemic, and studying global health doesn’t mean you have to go work in another country. The ethical, socio-economic and practical issues that we cover in global health are just as relevant here at home as they are abroad.”

University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis is committed to building a community of innovators and health care leaders who are making a difference in their communities through expert practice and a dedication to building healthier societies.

Learn more about the University’s undergraduate and graduate programs in Global Health and Equity.

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