Travel Medicine in a Global Community

The Chateau Frontenac in historic Quebec City

I just spent a week in Quebec City, back in my homeland of Canada, attending a conference sponsored by the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM). It was wonderful to meet colleagues from all over the world and to catch up on the latest research and trends in travel medicine. It really shrinks the world when you can mingle with experts who have just arrived from the frontiers of world medicine; fighting Ebola in Africa or staffing clinics in the earthquake ravaged city of Kathmandu. Many knowledgeable speakers shared a wealth of information and perspective covering the scope of international and travel medicine.

The global impact of travel is staggering. Airline passengers logged 2.7 trillion air miles on all carriers worldwide in 2013, which is the equivalent of 18,000 trips from the earth to the sun. Any corner of the globe can be reached in a day or two and we have truly become an inter-connected global community.

In the coming decades, trends in global health will affect us all, including the challenges of an aging population and the rising incidence of chronic disease worldwide. The increasing burden of health care needs will tax our collective resources as in no other time in human history. Medicine is riding the wave of technology and information and is advancing at breathtaking speed, yet much of the world is not able to share its benefits. The gulf of wealth disparity in the world still disenfranchises hundreds of millions of global citizens who lack access to safe water, basic medical care or even adequate nourishment. Despite humanity’s advances, we remain a world divided between developed and developing nations.

So, is it all doom and gloom for humanity? Fortunately, the travel medicine community is an upbeat crowd and we were updated throughout the week on new developments in vaccines and medical care. We were provided a glimpse of the future of global medicine in a lecture given by Alan Magill, one of the “Impatient Optimists” with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the medical director of their worldwide malaria eradication initiative.

Half of the world’s population still lives in areas at risk for malaria, which is particularly deadly for children under the age of five. The good news is that worldwide deaths from malaria have fallen dramatically in the last 15 years and many countries are now free of the disease or close to it. We already have the medicines, technology and public health strategies to eradicate a global killer, yet we face an uphill struggle and are likely decades away from achieving such a goal, largely due to cultural and geopolitical challenges similar to those demonstrated by the recent Ebola epidemic.

For me, the conference was an opportunity to reconnect and reconfirm my participation in our global community. I will bring home a wealth of information that will help me provide better care and counseling to my own patients.

It was an added bonus to explore the historic city of Quebec, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. I felt proud of my (French) Canadian heritage as I walked down the picturesque cobblestone streets, re-awakening the French language part of my brain and eating my fill of maple syrup treats and food like Mom used to cook.

Now, as I lift my tray table to prepare for landing, my own share of the world’s air miles brings me back to Phoenix, the Valley of the Sun and an upcoming week of 100+ degree heat.