Globalisation disproportionately affects at-risk populations, but it also has significant potential to create value for these groups
While globalisation presents great opportunities for economic growth, technological advancement and cultural exchange, it also poses significant risks and challenges for vulnerable and at-risk populations. It has connected countries, cultures and economies, bringing both benefits and challenges. At-risk populations, including marginalised communities and vulnerable groups, are disproportionately affected by globalisation. It can provide access to economic growth, medical advances, cultural exchanges and advocacy – yet it can also exacerbate health disparities, environmental degradation, socio-economic displacement and the spread of infectious diseases.
Globalisation can widen health disparities among at-risk populations due to income inequalities and uneven distribution of resources and opportunities. Limited access to quality health care, education and nutritious food contributes to poorer health outcomes within these populations. Rural communities, especially in developing countries, can experience significant impacts from globalisation. Agricultural liberalisation, changes in land use and competition from global markets may threaten traditional farming practices and livelihoods. Unequal power dynamics in global value chains may lead to exploitative labour practices, job insecurity, land dispossession and unequal distribution of benefits. Lack of access to essential services, such as health care, clean water, power supply, education and infrastructure, further marginalises rural communities.
Rapid urbanisation presents challenges for the urban poor. Increased migration to cities in search of economic opportunities can result in overcrowded slums, inadequate housing and limited access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation and health care. The urban poor often face precarious employment conditions, informal work, irregular and unpredictable income, and lack of social protection, leading to higher vulnerability to health risks, poverty and marginalisation.
Environmental degradation is another area of significant concern with globalisation. An unwelcome outcome of industrialisation and production is environmental degradation and pollution, which create sustainability issues. At-risk populations living near manufacturing factories and extractive industries or in environmentally vulnerable regions face health risks from pollution, deforestation and climate change. Many such marginalised communities dependent on fishing and farming often face severe stress to livelihoods from unchecked environmental degradation, which further deepens inequalities and marginalisation that result in increased health disparities and limited access to health care.
The spread of infectious diseases is an unfortunate outcome of global travel and trade, as perfectly illustrated by the global Covid-19 pandemic. At-risk populations with limited access to health care and preventive measures are particularly vulnerable, and the availability and affordability of essential medications and vaccines may be hindered.
Despite these unsavoury outcomes, globalisation has significant potential to create value for at-risk populations. It opens up new avenues for economic participation and growth. Marginalised communities, such as ethnic minorities, Indigenous peoples, women, urban poor and rural populations, can access global markets, trade networks and investment opportunities. This enables them to engage in entrepreneurial activities, expand their businesses and increase their income. Additionally, globalisation can lead to jobs and industries created in previously underserved areas, fostering economic development and reducing poverty.
Globalisation enables the rapid dissemination of medical knowledge, scientific advances, technology and expertise, benefiting at-risk populations. Improved access to life-saving drugs, diagnostic tools and treatment options can enhance health outcomes. Global collaborations address major communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and major non-communicable diseases such as cancer and heart disease, which are rising at exponentially higher rates in developing countries and among the most vulnerable populations.
Furthermore, globalisation promotes cultural exchanges and the recognition of diverse cultural identities. Marginalised communities often possess unique cultural traditions, knowledge systems and artistic expressions that can be shared and celebrated on a global scale. Increased cultural interactions through tourism, media and cultural exchange programmes foster cross-cultural understanding, appreciation and respect. This recognition helps marginalised communities preserve and revitalise their cultural heritage, enhancing their sense of identity and pride – which are essential for health and wellness.
Globalisation promotes the growth of multinational and multicultural organisations and initiatives aimed at improving the health of at-risk populations. Essential healthcare services, clean water, sanitation facilities and nutrition programmes may be provided through these multicultural and multinational engagements.
The value of globalisation as a framework for amplifying the voices of at-risk populations through social media, international networks and advocacy platforms is often not appreciated. Activists and grassroots organisations raise awareness about health inequalities, demand policy changes, and hold governments and corporations accountable. This increased visibility can lead to improved health policies and targeted interventions.
The impact of globalisation on the health of at-risk populations is multifaceted. Although it can exacerbate health disparities, environmental degradation and the spread of infectious diseases, globalisation also offers opportunities for improved access to economic opportunities, medical advances, cultural exchanges and advocacy. Prioritising equitable resource distribution, sustainable development and inclusive policies is crucial in harnessing the potential of globalisation to enable positive health outcomes. By addressing negative impacts and building on positive aspects, it is possible to create a globalised world that promotes the health and well-being of at-risk populations and the potential for global solidarity and collaboration to address common challenges.