Georgia’s Critical Mass of Global Health Organizations Could Make Up a Statewide Alliance
By Mark Rosenberg, MD, MPP President and CEO, The Task Force for Global Health
Global health pioneer Bill Foege demonstrated in the 1960s and ’70s that eradicating a devastating disease such as smallpox requires collaboration among governments, organizations, and large teams of healthcare workers. These problems are too large, he said, for any one person or organization to solve on its own. Coalitions are absolutely critical.
Although Foege’s experience with smallpox eradication demonstrated that global health had to be a collective effort, the global health community has struggled to understand the principles of effective collaboration and apply them successfully. Last year’s Ebola outbreak was not effectively addressed until the global health community was mobilized to work together on the issue. Africa’s HIV epidemic did not slow in the last decade until donors began working together with affected countries on the issue. Similarly, programs to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases have only succeeded because of sustained collaborations among endemic countries, global health organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and donors.
An alliance among Georgia’s global health organizations could help connect this community to work collaboratively on large issues. It also could serve as a resource for members and other organizations interested in engaging the sector, and advocate for global health priorities at the state, national, and international levels. An alliance would contribute to the economic development of the state by strengthening Georgia’s global brand and helping to attract new organizations to the state. It would also provide a mechanism for Georgia’s global health organizations to apply their expertise in solving global health problems to public health issues in Georgia.
Georgia has a critical mass of organizations that could begin to work together in an alliance. They include academic institutions, nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations, corporations, government agencies, and trade associations that are already engaged in global health work or could contribute in meaningful ways. The Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA) has been providing guidance about how a Georgia alliance might operate. Since 2007, WGHA has been forging collaboration within its global health sector to improve the health of people around the world including residents of Washington State. WGHA started with six members that each committed initial funding combined with a grant from the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. WGHA now has 65 members spanning diverse sectors and a budget of $1.2 million.
One of WGHA’s biggest contributions has been to map the global health sector in Washington to identify existing connections among members and opportunities for new collaborations. Out of this work, WGHA facilitated a partnership between the Seattle Sounders professional soccer team and four global health organizations in the state to propose an innovative program in Tanzania to promote health equity called “Wealth and Health.” The four global health organizations involved in the partnership–PATH, World Vision, the University of Washington, and Washington State University–had all been working in the Tanzanian city of Arusha for years, but never together until WGHA cultivated this collaboration. WGHA has facilitated other partnerships to bridge the non-profit and corporate worlds by exploring how business expertise could address supply and logistical issues encountered by global health organizations in the developing world. In return, the nonprofits have provided their expertise to corporate partners in working in emerging markets. In 2014 alone, WGHA facilitated more than 255 partnerships.
While working to bring together the global health community, WGHA has also been supporting what Dr. Howard Hiatt, former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, calls “global health at home.” In Washington State, residents of South King County suffer high rates of poverty and disease, with health outcomes comparable to those experienced by people in Kenya. Through the Global to Local initiative, WGHA is working with its members to identify global health approaches that could help address health disparities in South King County. Swedish Health Services, a large non-profit medical provider in the Seattle area and a WGHA member, has committed $1 million in funding to the initiative. Georgia’s health equity issues are equally as pressing as those in South King County, and a Georgia alliance could help bring to bear solutions that have worked in other parts of the world. For example, community health workers have helped improve health outcomes for people in the developing world with chronic diseases such as HIV. A similar strategy might be employed in Georgia to help promote medication compliance for people with diabetes, HIV, and other chronic health conditions.
Georgia is well positioned to become a global health hub. In addition to its large, diverse group of organizations already working in the space, it has a world-class international airport that provides a gateway to all parts of the globe. Stakeholders from Georgia global health organizations have been learning from WGHA representatives about their experiences in making Washington a global health center. WGHA representatives recently traveled to Atlanta to meet with Georgia stakeholders to discuss elements of the WGHA model of collaboration that may be useful to Georgia. Those discussions will continue in earnest over the coming months and are expected to help a Georgia Global Health Alliance take flight.