15 April 2021
In August 2020 I outlined the case for optimism, inspired by the conversations I had in the early weeks of the pandemic with colleagues from across the UK. Eight months on, I could not be prouder of the collective impact we are having.
It has been an extraordinary year for THET and the wider Health Partnership community. A year of transformation which will leave an indelible, and ultimately very positive mark on the Health Partnership approach.
We have embraced technology with remarkable success. Made necessary by the pandemic and inevitable by climate change, this has broadened access to global health engagement opportunities for those unable to commit to travel such as the parents of young children or those whose employers do not give them time off to engage.
The year has taught us to feel more confident about where, and how, we can add value. Whether in response to the pandemic, or the coup in Myanmar, those who volunteer in Health Partnerships have proven the value of the relationships that underpin these partnerships. As we argued in this blog for BMJ last year, overseas travel may have largely stopped but the strong ties of trust, collegiality, and professional respect built over many years of collaboration are alive and well.
Thirdly, the past year has seen a significant shift of power to our partners in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. In a year where we have also been taught to be more aware of the explicit and unconscious forces at play in our relationships, this is another transformation that we must hold on to as we move forward.
The richness of our collective response has been on display during the two COVID Partnerships conferences we organised. The second, last month, involved 412 people from 44 countries taking part in 16 sessions with 48 speakers. Organised with our partners at the ESTHER Alliance and ACHEST, the conference demonstrated just how vibrant the Health Partnership community is, despite the constraints on travel. The conference looked back, to our first conference in April 2020, and forwards, to the considerable challenges that still face us in 2021 and beyond. You can catch up with the presentations and discussions here.
That conference focused on the growing challenges to health services in Africa in particular, because of COVID-19, and indirectly because of the reduction in other health services and inequitable access to vaccines. As the UK emerges from the pandemic, at least for the moment, we must not forget the continued impact coronavirus is having on our partners overseas. The conference took place at a time when the Health Partnership model was presented with, arguably, an even greater test, namely the coup in Myanmar. Over 30 organisations have pivoted to support colleagues in Myanmar at this time, once again providing the versatility of the model and the value of promoting knowledge-exchange across borders. You can read THET’s statement in response to the coup here.
What is unfolding in our world today is often heart-breaking, giving us every reason to feel pessimistic about our future. The way in which Health Partnerships are responding to these challenges tells the opposite story. It gives us hope, and every reason to be optimistic.
We – and more especially you – have heeded the call for global solidarity at time of greatest need and our partnerships will be the stronger because of it.
The Health Worker Action Fund. Through training, provision of equipment and emotional support, we aimed to care for as many health workers in low- and middle-income countries as possible. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we raised over £40,000 in three months. From cleaners to doctors and pharmacists, the Fund has made a difference to health workers in four countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. This includes 1620 nurses and nursing students who have played an invaluable role in patient care.
Existing partnerships have pivoted their activities to take account of COVID-19. Under the THET-managed CwPAMS programme, for example, several Health Partnerships harnessed knowledge and skills on Infection Prevention and Control acquired through the programme to respond to the pandemic in new ways. The Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust and Hospital Pharmacists Association of Zambia partnership rapidly increased production of alcohol-based handwash by 400%, an initiative which was rolled out to other institutions in-country and in the UK. Further, a short training video resource was produced to guide healthcare professionals elsewhere.
Using new channels for bi-directional learning such as THET Pulse, an online community platform for knowledge exchange, resource sharing and event hosting, which seeks to strengthen links and mutual learning for health workers everywhere.