Newsroom & Blog

Feb 10, 2017   |   Blog Post

Reflections on the WHO Director General’s Four Priorities for Health in a New Era

By Melissa West

Director, Advocacy & Communications

Dr. Chan and me on the University of Washington Campus

One of the highlights of University of Washington’s symposium celebrating ten years in global health was seeing the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan. Dr. Chan was charming as ever, with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. Perhaps it is because she is nearing the end of her term (her successor will be chosen during the upcoming World Health Assembly) that despite moments of levity, her words had a more sobering ring.

Dr. Chan painted a complex picture of the world in which global health professionals work.  We are confronting new diseases and old diseases, dealing with post-antibiotics and post-truth. She warned the attendees that some believe a long-standing social contract has been broken and “we are now living in a world that has lost its moral compass”. Before we could wallow in our collective struggle, Dr. Chan laid out four priorities to help guide health policies and programs.  Here’s what they mean for our work at VillageReach.

  1. Tackle Inequality In collaboration with our partners, VillageReach strives to increase access to quality healthcare in the most underserved communities, where we have seen inequality impede our progress. Even when overall rates of immunization coverage improve, there are some places where inequalities actually get worse.  As a result, we are working to zero in on why vaccines and other essential medicines are less accessible to the poorest children, and how supply chain improvements can help overcome these challenges. Dr. Chan encouraged the global health community to align around Universal Health Coverage as “the ultimate expression of fairness”. VillageReach is committed to promoting universal access to immunization and other essential medicines as a cornerstone for health, essential for attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.

  2. Improve Information
    Addressing inequality requires that all stakeholders understand even the most basic details about populations, particularly those facing economic-related inequality. Who is born, who dies and why are data at the root of all health program and policies. VillageReach’s work in the Kwitanda Community Health Project to capture these data at the community level is a small-scale example of working with communities to help develop these systems. Paper-based systems prevail in many of the places we work; yet we are trying new tools to collect the right data without further burdening stretched health workers.  The collection of the data is important, but perhaps more important is the analysis and use of that data to drive decisions and inform programs.

  3. Stimulate Innovation
    Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, emphasized it is not only about the delivery of innovation but the innovation of delivery. Tremendous time and resources are invested in breakthroughs with the promise to control or eliminate diseases that cost thousands of lives. These very innovations have at times unintentionally strained systems in low-resource settings. VillageReach works to develop “system innovations” – focusing on the factors that enable innovations to succeed (government priorities, stakeholder buy-in and the realities at the last mile) as on the innovation itself. This approach is why the Dedicated Logistics System in Mozambique was selected as the winner of the Global Health Supply Chain award.

  4. Show Impeccable IntegrityAt VillageReach this means using evidence to develop programs, putting the mission ahead of our organization’s interests and applying principles and values to discussions with all stakeholders. Starting at the last mile is our commitment to work with communities and invest in innovations that address the most critical barriers to health in the places where we work.

What I realized listening to Dr. Chan is that her advice is not just for global health professionals, but for each of us who wants to make a difference in her community, city, or even the world. As we defend what is important, stand up for what is right and work to uphold core values, we must take another piece of Dr. Chan’s advice. In this new era, we cannot afford to work alone. As Dr. Chan said, “it is all about alliances, teamwork and collaboration.” At VillageReach, we attempt to model this behavior. Sometimes it is easier said than done, as it is often faster to go alone. But in order to build the future we want, it is something that we all must work a lot harder to achieve.


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