Thinking Bigger at the World Health Assembly

Peter-ShelbyToday’s guest blog comes from Peter Shelby, who directs communications for Lilly Global Health Programs in Geneva.

In the world of global health, we don’t usually compare what we do with the weather, but there is at least one parallel. Meteorologists talk about the butterfly effect, a theory asking us to consider whether a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could set a tornado into motion in Texas.

In some ways this describes exactly what needs to happen if we are to make meaningful and measurable improvements to health care and access around the world.

Long gone are the days when disease fighting efforts stopped at national borders. Migrants with tuberculosis from Russia can impact people in other central European countries. A person with diabetes in China is facing similar challenges to people with diabetes in South Africa, the US or Brazil. Because of this, helping people achieve better health is the shared responsibility of a health ministry official in Mexico City, a clinic physician in Delhi, a medical researcher in Shanghai and an employee in Indianapolis.

What this really means is that the health challenges we encounter today require us to think bigger. And also to think differently.

Thinking bigger and differently is exactly what global health leaders will be doing this week as they convene in Geneva for the 69th annual World Health Assembly. Their conversations will set or speed action along the course towards achieving the goals and priorities on the global health agenda, led by the World Health Organization (WHO)

Making impact on the global agenda means addressing challenges and gaps locally all around the world.  No doubt, many of these local challenges are similar, but there is no need for each government or local community to devise its own solution alone. In fact, many tangible examples of public-private partnership work are already happening that governments can draw on. The key element though is making the lessons from these PPPs readily accessible for consideration and replication by governments.

In our global health work, we leverage a Research-Report-Advocate approach to provide data-based solutions.  This means we research new models of care, collecting robust impact data; report what works and what doesn’t; and then advocate for broader scale up of proven interventions.

In fact, our partnership-based work developing new ways of helping people access better care can serve as an excellent model of tackling local challenges to improve things globally. The Lilly MDR-TB Partnership and the Lilly NCD Partnership are significantly improving health care by developing and testing new models of community-based care in under-resourced areas of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia and South Africa. 

Impact data and implementation lessons from these projects are regularly presented at medical conferences and posted for open access online. Policymakers from other countries can learn from these projects, take what is relevant for their situations and apply them for the benefit of their citizens.

Global health is a shared responsibility, and part of that responsibility is the transparent sharing of what we learn. Local action really can have global impact.