Improving healthcare for all

Andrew Griffiths, July 2014
Trichiasis patient Agnes John Milanzi at home the day after surgery. One of her young sons sits in the background.

“Universal health care ensures that the right health services are available to all”

On 10 July, Lynne Featherstone MP will be giving evidence to the UK Parliamentary Committee inquiry into health system strengthening.

For many years, Sightsavers has worked closely with the UK government to help improve the health of people living in poverty around the world. I have personally met a lot of extremely dedicated, knowledgeable and hardworking people who work on health for the UK Department for International Development (DFID). I have been impressed with their work, their priorities and the impact that UK aid is able to have on lives. More than that, as a partner for a number of UK aid funded programmes, we have been able to implement a lot of life-changing programmes with DFID.

However, the work of professional development experts in strengthening health systems in the long term is not always recognised in the way DFID measures success. I think that is a huge shame for two reasons: firstly, there is a danger that if something is not measured and reported on, then it is either de-prioritised or entirely dependent on the professional competence of DFID’s staff (it is to their credit that they do so much!); and secondly, that the contribution of UK Aid on the lives of people, not just right now, but for generations, is not recognised and celebrated by the UK government or UK public.

For example, DFID has worked with a number of countries to support the development of professional community health workers within the government health system. These are critical for the effective functioning of health systems, ensuring that the systems are brought closer to where people live and work. Because of these health workers, when people feel unwell, they don’t have to travel to the nearest city with a hospital, with all the travel costs and inconvenience that leads to.

However, this support is not seen for what it is – a long term investment in a people-centred and effective health system – but just seen as a means to an end. Short-term results could have been achieved without investing in the development of professional community health workers, but without that investment there would be no long-term dividend for the country or people.

This is why Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is so important, as a sustainable long-term solution to the health problems faced by people in developing countries. It means that people can access the health care they need, when they need it, and that the care they do receive doesn’t lead to financial hardship for them or their families. It also ensures that the right health services are available to all of the people in the right places, delivered by the right people with the right medication.

In this IDC inquiry, we are calling for DFID to systematically measure their impact on long-term change, not just short-term results. We believe that this approach would highlight the good work of many of the impressive DFID projects, whilst at the same time ensuring that sustainable change is a stated priority in UK aid. Indeed, as Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization once said, “what gets measured, gets done”.

By Andrew Griffiths, Head of Advocacy at Sightsavers

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