Medicalization of global health 1: has the global health agenda become too medicalized?

Glob Health Action. 2014 May 16;7:23998. doi: 10.3402/gha.v7.23998. eCollection 2014.


Medicalization analyses have roots in sociology and have critical usefulness for understanding contemporary health issues including the 'post-2015 global health agenda'. Medicalization is more complex than just 'disease mongering'--it is a process and not only an outcome; has both positive and negative elements; can be partial rather than complete; and is often sought or challenged by patients or others in the health field. It is understood to be expanding rather than contracting, plays out at the level of interaction or of definitions and agenda-setting, and is said to be largely harmful and costly to individuals and societies. Medicalization of global health issues would overemphasise the role of health care to health; define and frame issues in relation to disease, treatment strategies, and individual behaviour; promote the role of medical professionals and models of care; find support in industry or other advocates of technologies and pharmaceuticals; and discount social contexts, causes, and solutions. In subsequent articles, three case studies are explored, which critically examine predominant issues on the global health agenda: global mental health, non-communicable disease, and universal health coverage. A medicalization lens helps uncover areas where the global health agenda and its framing of problems are shifted toward medical and technical solutions, neglecting necessary social, community, or political action.

Keywords: Global health; development; medicalization; sociology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Global Health*
  • Health Priorities
  • Healthy People Programs
  • Humans
  • Medicalization*