We recently welcomed Kirsten Gagnaire as a managing director in FSG’s global health practice. A leader in the field with deep experience working with global multi-sector organizations to address global health challenges and using digital tools to advance programmatic effectiveness, Kirsten highlights 3 trends she seeing in the global health sector.
1. Use real-time data to improve patient care and inform decisions
In global health, we are always thinking about how we can collect data on the ground from the most remote communities all the way up to the national and, ultimately, global level. Mobile phones and other digital tools have shifted the way we collect data in the last decade as the number of people owning cell phones has risen rapidly across the globe, making it easier to collect real-time data across population levels.
More recently, I’ve seen a rise in programs not only using digital devices to collect data, but connecting these digital tools together to disseminate important information and connect people accessing health services with key decisions makers as well as facilitate the distribution of health devices and services. While the pieces of this exist, it’s the putting together of these pieces into a cohesive system that is still lacking. There are places making progress, such as South Africa, where the government program MOMconnect lets women register their pregnancy with the Department of Health using their mobile phones. The program provides the government with accurate and up-to-date information about pregnancies across the country, and gives women an easy way to access important information about their appointments and care during pregnancy, ask questions of health professionals, and send feedback on health services directly to the national Department of Health in real-time, all on mobile.
It’s not good enough to simply collect data, it also must be accessible to users at all levels of the health system. Technology is also helping us aggregate, analyze, and display all of this data in new ways. You no longer have to be a statistician to see what the data is telling you. Tools like Mosaic Global Health Check clearly show the impact of different diseases and the progress of global health efforts compared to our goals. While we still have a long way to go, greater availability and understanding of data is beginning to shift how leaders make informed, data-driven decisions on global health.
2. Address systemic barriers to health through “non-traditional” partnerships
Currently, there is a significant gap between the estimated cost of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and the traditional available funding from philanthropy and bilateral organizations. Cross-sector partnerships, which is actually one of the goals, will be key to achieving the rest of the SDG’s.
While public-private partnerships have been much discussed in recent years, we need to think beyond cross-sector and think about cross-industry and cross-discipline stakeholders coming together to shift the conversation. FSG’s work around shared value and collective impact can potentially provide frameworks for these partnerships. For corporations, the concept of shared value can help leaders consider new products, markets, and services that will help their business while also move us all closer to achieving the SDG’s. That corporate involvement is one way we’ll be able to fill in the funding gap for the SDG’s.
For example, in the global health field, one of the largest barriers is that systems on the ground can make it very difficult to get products, such as vaccines and medical devices, out through the layers in many low-to-middle income public health systems. The supply chain, training and retaining community health workers, health education – there are so many aspects of the system that often aren’t functioning efficiently. If those could be addressed, it would not only help create a more efficient and effective health system for people being served in those communities, it would also provide an easier mechanism for companies to be able to get medicines, vaccines, and devices through those systems.
NGOs, Ministries’ of Health, and companies all have a stake in getting those systems fixed. These issues are quite complex – one sector, industry or stakeholder cannot tackle them on their own. The SDG’s give us an organizing framework that all sectors can look at and say, “Where do we need to have impact, and how can we work with others toward these goals?” The real innovation happens from there. The UN and others have created many tools and resources to help those working on cross-sector partnerships, many of which can be found on the Partnerships for SDGs online platform, and FSG is working towards bringing together stakeholders from many industries to work on critical aspects of innovating the system of global health. Let us know if you’d like to be a part of this effort as it evolves.
3. Bring gender equity into every global health conversation
Recently, I’ve seen a shift towards asking, “What does it mean to have a gender lens in all aspects of global health?” We need to move beyond just thinking of women and girls, and start thinking about all the ways that gender impacts global health issues.
Of course, men need to be included in issues we’ve traditionally thought of as women and girls issues, but we also should do more to understand the differences between women and men – both in the biological sense, to better understanding medicines, diseases, and treatment options and how they affect men and women differently, but also in terms of education and awareness. How do women need to be communicated with differently? What are the socioeconomic and cultural factors that influence health differently for men and women? Where is there inequity and how can we address it?
The World Health Organization has a helpful framework around gender equity and human rights, and many organizations are doing great work in this space right now. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, is incorporating a gender equality perspective in a number of areas. Earlier this year, we released a report supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, An Opportunity to Address Menstrual Health and Gender Equity, which examines the existing research linking menstrual health to broader outcomes around health, social norms, and education, and explores opportunities to better support women and girls.
We’re also partnering with YLabs and VOTO Mobile on a project called, “Men Stand Up,” a Grand Challenges Exploration grant recipient which aims to increase men’s involvement in family planning through a greater understanding of men’s behaviors, needs, and preferences. Our hope is that through bringing young men into the conversation, we can design solutions that increase the uptake of family planning by men and women, creating better outcomes for all.
About Kirsten Gagnaire
Kirsten leads the Global Health and Digital Development work at FSG, bringing her experience with global multi-sector organizations including large bilateral governments, corporate, United Nations, and grassroots stakeholders. As a champion for the use of technology for social impact, she brings a depth of understanding of the use of digital tools to advance programmatic effectiveness and connect with the hardest to reach populations.