What Does It Really Mean to Build Health Systems?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Over the past year, discussions around dealing with the Ebola outbreak to bringing cases down to zero invariably circled around the need for health systems strengthening.

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s assistant administrator for global health, and Michael Myers, managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation, were perhaps among the first health experts to pin West Africa’s inability to contain the epidemic on weak health systems in the region.

Eventually, discussions on health systems strengthening evolved.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former director-general at the World Health Organization and member of The Elders, talked about how developing countries should take the lead in strengthening their health systems. These countries know best what they need and should be able to push for these changes to happen, instead of letting international donors — some of which have begun pledging funds to help developing countries strengthen their health systems — and agencies dictate where investments should go.

Further, a number of initiatives have been launched both to shine a light on how strong countries’ health systems really are and to support efforts to address this problem. In March, for instance, Save the Children ranked countries according to their pandemic preparedness. Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC meanwhile announced it will invest $9 million to train health workers in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.

Building resilient health systems was the theme of the just-concluded 68th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, as well.

The need to strengthen and build more resilient health systems seems clear to the global health community. Having this in place minimizes a country’s vulnerability to another infectious disease outbreak, for instance. It could also reduce deaths from preventable diseases — such as malaria, which continues to be the biggest killer of children under 5 in Sierra Leone — or because of a lack of qualified doctors and medicines.

To this day, however, various stakeholders have yet to reach on a common understanding of how to approach health systems strengthening or set in place a robust system that would allow them to systematically and comprehensively tackle the problem.

Source: Devex (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
infectious diseases