Aid superstar Jeffrey Sachs – author of "The End of Poverty" and "Common Wealth" and director of Columbia University's Earth Institute – laid out his health policy vision this past weekend at a conference on health disparities hosted by Columbia's Teacher's College.
Africa loses 4 million children under 5 each year, many of which could be avoided with treatment, Sachs said. Nearly 75 percent of these child deaths are from diarrhea, pneumonia and neonatal problems such as a poorly snipped umbilical cord, according to United Nations data.
Such health problems are endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, where there is a clear
for better healthcare and a greater health workforce. This is also where Sachs'
are being built.
Detailing a "science-based public health approach," Sachs called for informed initiatives built upon strong epidemiology.
"There's a need for differential diagnosis," he said. "Ideology, leave it outside the door. The rigorous analysis is the only way you can practically know what to do. Then you can design a set of interventions that are appropriate."
Programs should bring together the capabilities of the health and non-health sectors, be applied on a large scale where possible – like a village-wide vaccination – and involve mobile health solutions.
Management is key and funding, of course, is crucial. Foreign assistance for health and population initiatives has nearly tripled since 2000, and that money has made a difference.
"The aid turned up and that made it possible to prove … that resource flow could go a long way towards improving health outcomes," Sachs said, acknowledging that it still fell short. He recommended about $50 per person per year in the developing world, as compared to an average of about $4,000 per person in the West.
"It's a pretty tiny amount but it could go a long way," said Sachs, underscoring the need for scalable, replicable interventions that are also feasible. "Do it in a highly cost-efficient manner because the resources on the ground are so scarce."