Oct. 14
2014

The “Celebrity Couples” of Global Health and Development

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Cross-sector solutions can accelerate health progress in ways we miss when we don’t look beyond our siloes. This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Sanitation and nutrition, contraception and newborn survival, girls’ education and child survival, infrastructure and maternal survival, women’s incomes and violence — these are just some of the most powerful relationships in global health and development today. Odd couples, you might think.

Maybe they were odd couples once upon a time, but, after 15 years of hard work under the Millennium Development Goals, we know that lack of access to toilets compromises a child’s ability to absorb food. We know that lack of access to contraception is adding 600,000 newborn deaths each year. We know that educating young women can reduce child deaths by half. We know that roads, electricity and water are critical to maternal survival. And we know that women who earn their own incomes are less likely to be abused at home.

So, if we know that we can accelerate achievement of health goals for women and children by investing in toilets, contraception, education, roads, electricity, water and women’s incomes, why don’t we see more partnerships beyond the health sector? Why do single disease (e.g. AIDS) and single intervention (e.g. vaccines) investments still proliferate? Why are we not building health systems that harness the power of these cross-sector relationships?

The real question is: Can the U.N., governments, non-governmental organizations and corporations achieve the unprecedented levels of collaboration that are required to develop integrated policies, products and services, and, ultimately, finance not just single disease or single interventions but programs that combine the power couples of global health and development for maximum impact?

The stakes are high — the lives of 6.3 million small children and 300,000 pregnant women are at stake — but so are the opportunities. With 70 percent of maternal and child deaths now concentrated in just 15 countries*, health investments that include sanitation, education, contraception, infrastructure and women’s incomes can potentially double their impact on lives saved.

The goal should be to implement customized combinations of cross-sector services that create a powerful maternal and newborn survival surge depending on country characteristics. For example, in India, it might be unified efforts that embrace sanitation, nutrition and women’s incomes; in Nigeria, contraception, women’s incomes and infrastructure; and, in Pakistan, education, women’s incomes and nutrition. Activating just the right combination of forces will be critical to success.

To encourage the development of these cross-sector partnerships delivering integrated solutions, the MDG Health Alliance and Johnson & Johnson are collaborating on a living map of all current, large-scale investments, public and private, across the health, sanitation, transportation, energy, water, employment and education sectors in the 15 countries with the largest numbers of maternal and newborn deaths.

The “Partnering Beyond the Health Sector Digital Map” will expose cross-sector opportunities for closer collaboration among partners currently working separately but in close geographic proximity, and it will also reveal critical gaps in cross-sector services that, if filled, could prevent the deaths of many more pregnant women and newborns.

Too often it is the arbitrary divisions that we erect among ourselves that prevent the truly transformative work from happening.

*India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Afghanistan; and Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Angola, Kenya, Uganda,Tanzania, Sudan and Niger.

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