By Dr. Christine Sow, Executive Director
When I joined the Global Health Council (GHC) as its new executive director last November, I made one of my first priorities to meet and consult with global health stakeholders around the world. I wanted to get a sense of our community’s priorities and needs. So for the past three months, I’ve been on what I call a listening tour. It took me to eight US metropolitan areas—Seattle, Boston, Ann Arbor, Atlanta, the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, San Francisco, New York, and Washington DC—and abroad. Throughout the tour I met with global health stakeholders one-on-one, in large group meetings, and by participating in thought-provoking conferences such as Switchpoint and the Shared Value Leadership Summit.
The listening tour ended last month, fittingly enough, in Geneva at the 67th World Health Assembly. There, GHC’s core staff met with global health stakeholders, advocates, and implementers. It was fascinating to note the many similarities these global health hubs share, as well as the differences that set them apart. We have a tendency to work in silos without linking our issues to the overall strategic umbrella of global health. Here are just a few of the things that stood out to me and will shape the course of GHC’s activities in the coming months:
- Global health engagement takes many forms. We’ve seen a shift from the classic troika of government, nongovernmental organizations, and big pharma, to a wider variety of actors, including innovative biotech firms, corporations that are making increasingly profound commitments, and academic institutions throughout the US.
- Global health is everywhere throughout the United States. Once you scratch the surface, you see there are organizations and individuals in most major metropolitan areas who are deeply committed to improving the health of the global population—particularly those living in low-resource settings.
- There is a strong desire to keep global health at the forefront of US government commitments and to promote understanding throughout the US general public. The game-changing nature of the US government’s commitment over the last decade is clearly acknowledged and appreciated.
- The global health community is not always well organized. As many of us know, we have a tendency to work in silos without linking our issues to the overall strategic umbrella of global health.
- We need to make more deliberate connections across the spectrum of engagement in global health, particularly between and among innovation, R&D, programmatic implementation and implementation sciences, measurement, and assessment of impact. We all need to find common purpose and language to better coordinate and collaborate with one another.
- The future of global health funding is uncertain, at least in terms of large-scale bilateral government investment. The US government’s leadership in global health would be sorely missed if it went away.
- The future of global health cuts across sectors. Successful engagement requires us to multiply and scale up multi-sector partnerships such as the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Alliance and Every Woman Every Child.
- Different actors commit to making global health impact for different reasons. There are enormous shifts going on in the official development assistance funding environment. Combine that with the explosion of social media, and we have a rapidly expanding, dynamic, and at times chaotic global health landscape. At the end of the day, though, we all need to find common purpose and language to better coordinate and collaborate with one another.
- We are all interested in and concerned about the position of health within the post-2015 agenda and sustainable development goals. But at the same time, continued commitment to eliminating preventable child and maternal deaths (Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5) is being demonstrated through high level meetings such as the US Agency for International Development’s Acting on the Call and the 5th Birthday and Beyond coalition’s celebration of U.S. government leadership in child survival.
- Concern around non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is growing worldwide but their position within the global health agenda is still uncertain. The current state of NCD advocacy and commitment resembles the early days of the AIDS crisis: for example, the need for more strategic and targeted messaging, lack of clarity around metrics and impact, and the struggle to find a place for NCD funding within existing envelopes.
As a unique neutral convener in the US global health space, GHC takes to heart these and other observations from the listening tour. We’re using them to refine and improve our action plan for this year and into next. We’ll be working to raise the visibility of global health priorities at the upcoming US-Africa Leaders Summit and the United Nations General Assembly. And at an applied level, we’ll work with policymakers and advocates to strengthen evidence-based decision-making in favor of sound global health policies and increased investment.
This blog was also cross-posted here along with a video of Dr. Christine Sow and Pape Gaye’s conversation around Rethinking Global Health.