Finding locally-grown answers to Global Health questions
The Carter Center and Google teamed up this month to host an insightful conversation between three well-known advocates of U.S. action on global health. The Google+ webcast brought together former President Jimmy Carter, Dr. Donald Hopkins, vice-president for health programs at the Carter Center, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
The webcast is well worth watching. You can find it at this link.
In my view, one of the best points made was Dr. Hopkins’ view that ultimately the answers to solve global health problems must be locally-grown. In other words, solutions to such problems must come from the communities most impacted. Remember, he said, it is within people’s own capacity to make their lives better – with a little bit of outside help. Our job is to be that little bit of outside help (and not to overwhelm communities with our ideas, presence, resources, technology, etc.).
Hearing that reminded me of a village in Ecuador I read about recently. My team has worked with the village of Valle de Toachi as part of a larger community health development project. Where we might have seen the need for a health clinic, this community dreamed of what they came to call a “Health House.” They understood that to improve their health, they needed to do more than simply treat diseases – they needed to promote healthy living. The Health House is now their center of education, training and action on promoting healthy living, behaviors, environments, etc. Of course, there still is a need for medical treatment, so the Health House refers those who are sick to the closest clinic or hospital.
On the topic of disease intervention, President Carter suggested during the webcast that one of the best investments is a focus on what are called Neglected Tropical Diseases, or NTDs. These basic diseases of poverty – from intestinal worms to skin ulcers – provide an opportunity to make a significant impact on the health of a population through targeted investments. A good case in point is the eradication of Guinea Worm, which has been a focus of the Carter Center.
President Carter noted that a World Bank study of a district in Nigeria showed that the elimination of Guinea Worm had a $20 million positive economic impact. Kristof noted that to get people in wealthy countries to support global health initiatives we need to do a better job sharing such success stories. He also encouraged those of us engaged in global health to bring forward the names, faces and stories of the people impacted by diseases that are relatively easy to prevent and treat. Such personal connections will cause the broader public to care more deeply about these issues.
One effort to do that happens next month when one of my MAP International colleagues, Dr. Julius Kavuludi, will be in Atlanta to discuss his work tackling an NTD called lymphatic filariasis in coastal Kenya. If you’d like more information on that, please let me know.