Achieving universal health coverage requires the massive scale up of volunteering through mutually beneficial partnerships

THET welcomes the publication of the All-Party Parliamentary Group's  report The UK’s Contribution to Health Globally: Benefiting the country and the world.

Single DonationThis new report presents for the first time a comprehensive mapping of UK actors across all sectors, the contributions they make to global health and what benefits accrue to the UK. The report analyses this activity before making ten recommendations on how we can all improve our contribution.

The report highlights THET’s vital work in the training of the health workforce in low- and middle-countries, highlighting particular achievements such as the DFID-funded Health Partnership Scheme (HPS), as well as our two major programmes in Zambia and Somaliland.

To date, HPS has supported nearly 140 health partnerships working across specialities as diverse as maternal and new born health to palliative care. These extraordinary partnerships have reached over 38,000 health workers in some of the poorest countries in the world providing vital training to ensure better health outcomes for underserved populations.

Health system strengthening is at the heart of our two country programmes in Zambia and Somaliland. THET has been working in partnership strengthening the health system of Somaliland since 2000 and has to date trained over 130 doctors, over 400 nursing graduates, 21 midwifery graduates and 39 community health workers (CHWs). In Zambia, THET has been working since 2009 to improve health service delivery through building capacity at departmental, institutional and policy-making level to ensure health workers are appropriately educated, trained, deployed, supported and retained.

A vision for the future

 The importance of global health to the UK is already widely recognised. Despite this, across England contributors to Improving Health at Home and Abroad commonly reported having to keep international volunteering through partnership activity ‘under the radar’. Even in health trusts where the senior leadership were fully supportive and where programmes were externally funded, many still experience nervousness about engagement.

And the recent International Development Committee report on Health System Strengthening called for us all, however we engage in global health, to make better use of NHS expertise.

It also, quite rightly pointed out that the new guidance, Engaging in Global Healthfrom the Department of Health, Department for International Development and the NHS, should lead the way.

 But Engaging in Global Health is simply that, guidance rather than policy. The question remains how do we take the next steps and create ‘formal structures to facilitate the participation of many more’ to engage in global health as the report goes on to recommend?

We need to work with other sectors such as the commercial and THET has been doing just that. Since 2011 THET has been Strengthening Surgical Capacity across Sub-Saharan Africa, supporting projects that aim to reduce morbidity and mortality from conditions requiring surgical intervention. Funded by Johnson & Johnson, this approach to cross-sectoral partnerships has trained many health workers in vital life-saving surgical skills. And we look forward to working with many more partners from the commercial sector.

 Our Response: Join it up

As the Government’s global health strategy, Health is Global, comes to an end and the Sustainable Development Goals begin, now is the time to for the UK to articulate a new vision and strategic approach to Global Health. The cross-sectoral and cross-departmental approach advocated for in this report challenges us all to look beyond silos towards ‘global public goods in health’. THET welcomes this challenge and looks forward to contributing to achieving this vision.

 The mutual benefits of working through partnership

Respect, reciprocity and mutuality lie at the heart of all good partnerships so we applaud the reports dual focus on how engaging in global health benefits low and middle income countries as well as the UK.

 We know that the partnership approach complements the NHS’s core values of ‘compassion’, the desire to ‘improve lives’ and that ‘everyone counts’. We also know that Ian Cumming, the Chief Executive of Health Education England believes that volunteering through partnership ‘changes people forever’ with the new HEE published CPD toolkit providing the means to quantify the evidence over time.

The International Development committee also commended the Health Partnership Scheme but noted that despite all the extraordinary results the funding was but ‘a drop in the ocean’ and that volunteering schemes need scaling up.

Strategic funding

Increasing funding of THET’s partnership approach is a strategic investment in achieving universal health coverage. Our HPS partnerships alone have trained 38,000 so far. If we are to achieve universal health coverage as outlined in the report then more strategic funding is needed to enable a massive scale up of volunteering through mutually beneficial partnerships.