Joined-up thinking can make a real difference to children’s lives around the world
As Co-Chair of the All Party Group for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases, I have been extremely fortunate to visit a number public health programmes in the developing world. With each visit I have been privileged to meet with some of the committed staff that make these programmes possible and have learned more about how sustainable aid programmes can be delivered on the ground.
In recent years I've been to Kenya, Bangladesh and Tanzania to see how UK money is being spent on vaccinating children against pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease, the two leading killers of children under five in the developing world. Despite being largely preventable, these diseases kill 1.1 million and 760,000 children every year respectively. Ensuring that safe, effective vaccines reach the communities that need them is a key priority in international development and it rightly forms the backbone of our global health and development efforts.
Despite all of this positive work, I also witnessed something which shocked and concerned me - the lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene practices in some of the clinics I visited. As a microbiologist I understand only too well that access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is an essential underpinning to any health system. I was alarmed by the thought that the children I had seen being vaccinated could remain at risk from future infection because they simply didn't have access to basic WASH facilities.
These experiences lead me to think that we need to be more joined-up in our thinking about public health and development. For me, this means not only better integration of project funding and delivery but also more effective communication between the Governments, NGOs and international institutions involved. With this in mind I have been working with the Earl of Dundee, Chair of the Council of Europe Subcommittee on Public Health, to bring stakeholders together to establish how we achieve our goal of greater integration, in particular organisations like PATH and WaterAid who have a real interest and have shown true leadership in this area. Following a roundtable event at the end of October I am convinced that there is a collective will to work together more effectively to achieve better health outcomes for children around the world.
There is also a growing weight of evidence in favour of greater integration and coordination. Earlier this year UNICEF and the WHO published their Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPP-D), which recommended an integrated ‘Prevent, Protect and Treat' approach to reducing the global burden of these diseases. This integrated approach encompasses vaccines, WASH, nutrition and basic treatments like antibiotics. Similarly, a recent Action for Global Health report highlighted the success of joined-up initiatives and called for greater incentivisation for integrated approaches to child health.
My message is a simple one. We don't need to completely overhaul international development policy to achieve better results. Vertical integrations, such as vaccines programmes, can be highly effective. We just need to look for ways to better coordinate and complement these existing efforts. We teach our children that working together can reap greater rewards than acting alone. It's high time that we remembered this lesson when trying to save the lives of vulnerable children around the world.
-- Jim Dobbin MP is Co-Chair of UK's All Party Group for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases
Photo credit: PATH/Heng Chivoan.