Let’s go the distance: Investing in partnerships for a healthier future

Dr. Catherine Hamlin and a nursing sister at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia visit a patient who received a life-saving surgery. Photo by: Lucy Perry/Hamlin Fistula Relief and Aid Fund Australia / CC BY

Today’s global health challenges are increasingly urgent and complex, cutting across national boundaries and traditional development silos. Think about the impact of climate change, the rise of non-communicable diseases and the crises of food and water supplies. Technology is rapidly changing how we deliver health care, while implementation is becoming more fragmented. And with traditional donors increasingly cutting costs, our ability to meet these challenges is getting harder.

Knowing where to invest time, resources and funding to have the greatest impact in this complex environment can be difficult. To inform these decisions, Devex, in partnership with PSI and PATH, conducted a survey to highlight smart investments in global health. We surveyed nearly 1,500 experts working in global health to learn what they think are the smartest investments — or “best buys” — to achieve our public health goals.

While there is no one silver bullet, experts on the frontlines of global health agreed that strengthening health systems that include the public and private sectors is one of the most critical investments we can make. Without improving the activities and initiatives that make up health systems, countries cannot achieve more equitable and lasting health services and outcomes.

To do this, we need to invest in health systems as a whole. For example, we need to aggressively invest in research and development to promote innovation in health care, services and products. At the same time, we need to create better delivery mechanisms to ensure these advancements get to the communities that need them.  

So how do we achieve this?

We believe that partnerships ultimately drive results. An African proverb reminds us, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The strengths that each organization, company or agency brings to the table are amplified when they work in partnership with others. We’ve found that the right partner can come from the public, private or NGO sectors — both locally and across the globe — and increasingly the sectors are stepping out of their traditional roles to put their best skills to work.

Our organizations have embraced the partnership model as one that works for every component of a comprehensive health system. For example, PATH has been a pioneer for nearly 40 years in translating bold ideas into breakthrough health solutions with the greatest impact. One such innovative solution was identifying a Chinese-made vaccine for Japanese encephalitis. In order to accelerate its introduction, PATH collaborated with partners in the private and government sectors within China and globally. They were able to achieve a World Health Organization prequalification status for the vaccine — the first ever for a Chinese-produced vaccine — paving the way for expanded access on a global level. As a result, more than 200 million people in 11 countries outside of China have been immunized against this deadly and debilitating disease.

In our survey, experts named service delivery as a top priority for global health. In addition to providing critical capacity building and technical support to public sector delivery channels, PSI partners with the private sector to advance sustainable service delivery. Throughout Africa, Asia and Central America, PSI is franchising more than 10,000 private sector providers — the way McDonald’s franchises restaurants — to improve quality, reduce costs and expand the number of people served. PSI also subsidizes the cost of certain health care products to make them affordable to the end consumer while keeping them profitable for the middle-men who sell them.

To strengthen the system on a macro level, Devex Impact, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, fills the need of every partner for better information. The online resource allows companies, governments, donors, NGOs and professionals to connect with each other and access practical information. This knowledge sharing is crucial for helping companies find business opportunities in global health development that both create profits and save lives.

From innovation to introduction to implementation, no organization or sector can fill all of the needs along the health delivery pipeline. Partnerships help us go further than we can alone. By looking to all sectors, even those that might not traditionally have been involved, we can pull in the skills, resources and expertise we need to access state-of-the-art solutions. More importantly, the interplay of these many partnerships along the health care pipeline is what will help us achieve our most fundamental goal: healthier communities.

We still have many obstacles in our path to a healthier, more equitable future. Lack of funding and political will continue to be some of the biggest challenges facing positive global health outcomes. We struggle to scale our results so that we can reach every corner of the planet with proper access and coverage to meet basic health needs. But these barriers to success are common among all of us, and working together can help us go the distance to overcome them.

Our true test, therefore, becomes exploring new ways to work more closely with all sectors to harness the power of these partnerships. That’s why it’s time to think outside the box about how new partnerships can help us go further with the interventions we are developing and implementing. Through such strategic collaborations, we can bring the best minds together to fill gaps with new innovation, evolve our approaches to existing challenges and make the world a healthier place for all of us.

This story is part of Best Buys in Global Health, a campaign by PSI, PATH and Devex to highlight sound investments in global health. Find out more.

About the authors

  • Karl Hofmann

    Karl Hofmann is president and CEO of Population Services International, a Washington, D.C.-based global health nonprofit focused on family planning and reproductive health, malaria, child survival, HIV, maternal and child health, and NCDs. Before joining the organization in 2007, he was a career U.S. diplomat for 23 years, serving as ambassador to Togo, executive secretary of the Department of State and deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Paris.
  • Steve Davis

    As president and CEO of PATH, Steve Davis combines his extensive experience as a technology business leader, global health advocate, and social innovator to lead PATH's work to accelerate lifesaving ideas and bring new health solutions to scale. PATH and our partners reach an average of 150 million people per year with innovative technologies and approaches that improve health and save lives.
  • Raj Kumar

    Raj Kumar is the Founding President and Editor-in-Chief at Devex, the media platform for the global development community. He is a media leader and former humanitarian council chair for the World Economic Forum and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. His work has led him to more than 50 countries, where he has had the honor to meet many of the aid workers and development professionals who make up the Devex community. He is the author of the book "The Business of Changing the World," a go-to primer on the ideas, people, and technology disrupting the aid industry.