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Newsroom & Blog

Jun 10, 2024   |   Blog Post

VillageReach in Action at WHA77

Pathfinder event, “Public-Private Partnerships for Health System Strengthening.”

By Claudia Shilumani, DBA

Vice President, Partnerships & Impact, VillageReach

The 77th World Health Assembly brought together global leaders to deliberate on crucial negotiations. Overall, member states are disappointed that they could not come to an agreement on the pandemic treaty but they left both excited because they were able to make the crucial amendments to the International Health Regulations and hopeful that they could resolve the outstanding issues on the Pandemic Agreement within the next 12 months. It has been encouraging to see member states and partners prioritizing immunization for zero-dose children and other vital health issues throughout the intensive week-long World Health Assembly. While all these negotiations were ongoing, VillageReach actively participated and hosted several related side events across Geneva this year. Participating and leading a few of these exciting panels was especially an honor.  

We advocated and rallied, placing our best foot forward in making the case for cross-sector collaboration in health system strengthening and digital health, investing in community health workers and prioritizing a people-centered approach in achieving responsive primary health care systems.  

Intersecting Public and Private Sectors 

Pathfinder hosted a side event that underscored the power of collaboration between the public and private sectors in improving health systems in Africa and Asia. I joined a diverse mix of panelists, including NGO,  private-sector and Africa CDC representatives, who highlighted the crucial role of long-term partnerships in driving impactful change, particularly in health system strengthening.  

From VillageReach’s standpoint, I stressed the importance of aligning with the government’s policies and strategies and the active involvement of the private sector in addressing needs and priorities while fostering innovation. Our Health Center by Phone initiative in Malawi and the Outsourced Transport Resource Center served as tangible examples of our approach. 

Making an Impact with CHIC 

Community Health Impact Coalition event, “Reaching the Unreached: Immunization Equity Through CHW Investments.”

We are an active Community Health Impact Coalition (CHIC) member and were happy to join them at WHA this year. Emily Bancroft spoke at their event, discussing the importance of investing in community health workers (CHWs) to ensure equitable access to immunization. She shared insights from our research on CHWs as vaccinators and highlighted how they are able to improve the uptake of vaccinations within their communities. We also collaborated with CHIC and World Vision to co-author an op-ed published on Devex titled “Invest in CHWs to Increase Child Vaccinations” that further underscored the urgency to invest in CHWs to achieve Immunization Agenda 2030 goals. We also partnered with the Global Health Council and other non-state actors to draft several statements that were read out on the Palais floor. 

It was also exciting to see Emily join a Devex panel on How NGOs Build Deep and Longstanding Partnerships with Ministries of Health.” Emily delved into our philosophy of being an organization that focuses on aligning priorities with governments and spoke to our commitments to our core countries, where we have worked for nearly 25 years. You can watch her segment here 

Complementing Expertise Through Collaboration at Geneva Digital Health Day  

The launch of the Global Telehealth Community of Practice at Geneva Digital Health Day.

We continued to make the case for collaboration in digital health. The Geneva Digital Health Hub (GDHub) hosted a one-day forum, Geneva Digital Health Day, which provided stakeholders from academia, policymakers, health care, and the private and public sectors with the opportunity to share their insights and experiences on digital health innovation.  

Jessica Mayenda and Edwin Mulwa spoke at the event. Jessica emphasized the importance of collaboration across sectors, a relay race of coming together to complement each other’s strengths to reach the finish line of Universal Health Coverage. Regarding national telehealth hotlines, she noted that governments must take ownership of these strategies and integrate them within government systems. You can watch her session here (41:40 mark). 

Edwin Mulwa speaking about the Global Telehealth Community of Practice at Geneva Digital Health Day.

To further cement the need for complementing strengths through collaboration, we participated in the exciting launch of the Global Telehealth Community of Practice (GTCoP) with our partners, the World Health Organization and GDHub. The GTCoP aims to convene, connect and coordinate telehealth communities in knowledge exchange, continuous learning, policy development and collaboration to create country-level telehealth systems that are equipped to deliver better health outcomes. Edwin called for governments, partners and donors to come together and support the GTCoP in enhancing access to health care through telehealth. You can watch his segment here (1:10:00 mark).   

Exciting Conversations at our Networking Dinner  

Mid-week, we also hosted a Friends of VillageReach dinner where representatives from Ministries of Health, our esteemed partners including the UN Foundation and GAVI, civil society and the private sector gathered to discuss how we can achieve responsive primary health care systems. The conversation highlighted points such as the importance of prioritizing communities and community health workers. This involves investing in the CHW workforce, developing a community health strategy, committing to financing and community engagement and ensuring community participation. It was also very clear that without the right people in the room, we are unable to make progress in negotiations and discussions relating to CHWs. There was a call for Ministries of Health to engage with finance ministries to influence budget approval and approach policy-making holistically. 

Celebrating 50 Years of Immunization 

Celebrating 50 years of immunization with the Humanly Possible campaign, launched by WHO and partners during World Immunization Week 2024.

The epic moment was when partners came together to celebrate global immunization efforts and take stock of how far we have come over the past 50 years. Emily and I participated at the celebration and I also had an opportunity to visit the clock at the Palais, and made a pledge to speak about the impact of immunization as well as ensure that immunization is part of health discussions. In addition, VillageReach  hosted two sessions with World Vision and the International Rescue Committee. I joined the panel for the first event, which focused on “How to fund, scale, and institutionalize delivery models to increase the agility of rapid immunization response at the community level.“ The discussion highlighted the critical need to include communities in designing and implementing solutions and programs. I shared about VillageReach’s testing and scaling solutions to improve immunization coverage in under-reach communities. Kidan Laja, a Community Health Worker from Sudan, called out the urgent need to support, train and remunerate community health workers as they play a critical link between communities and immunization programs.   

On the final day of WHA, we brought together thought leaders to discuss practical solutions to elevate community health workers as vaccinators in immunization programming. I moderated this conversation with high-level speakers from GAVI, UNICEF, WHO and CHWs. We were fortunate to have a CHW representative on the Africa Frontline First Board, who also brought to light the plight of CHWs who are working so hard to bring health care to their populations, especially at the last mile. The discussion stressed the need for partners to come together at different levels to elevate the role of CHWs by maximizing resources, sharing information, and encouraging pro-CHW policies and guidelines in different countries.  

The week was a race and we were exhausted yet exhilarated to have contributed to the vital discourse that took place during the important week of meetings. 

Looking beyond WHA  

The whirlwind of events reignited in all of us a sense of urgency to tackle the many pressing global health issues brought to the fore of the WHA. Still, we were also left with a moment of contemplation on how exactly we should move forward. We cannot do this alone, in our separate and distinct silos. We must unite, locally and globally, to reach our goal of a world where everyone has the health care needed to thrive.  

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