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Addressing Trends in Global Health at HVO

How has the global health sector changed in the last 30 years, and how will current trends impact HVO in the continued pursuit of its mission?

These two questions helped guide much of the discussion that occurred during HVO’s 30th Anniversary Symposium in April. Beyond Dr. James Tielsch’s keynote presentation on “Trends in Global Health,” which set the tone early in the day, and the panel discussion, “Addressing Trends in Global Health at HVO,” which was the final session many of us attended, I listened to and participated in many informal conversations about developments in the field that currently or will soon influence the work we do.

Some of the trends discussed—such as the rising prevalence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and the growing difficulty of containing infectious disease outbreaks in an increasingly globalized world—represent newer challenges in our sector. In many ways, HVO is uniquely poised to tackle these challenges. Strong health systems are needed to provide long-term care and symptom management to individuals living with NCDs while also continuing to provide primary health care and promoting global health security. At the heart of every strong health system is an empowered health workforce. By focusing on the education and professional development of health workers in resource-scarce countries, HVO helps ensure the populations of low-resource countries have access to needed health services.

As any provider who has practiced in a low-resource setting will tell you, there are times when the obstacles to delivering high-quality, effective care feel insurmountable. Faced with such obstacles, many health workers succumb to burnout, or relocate in pursuit of less challenging circumstances or greater opportunity for professional advancement. Our projects are designed to provide support and opportunity to health workers through their home institutions, reducing the likelihood of burnout and “brain drain.” As a result, more health workers remain to support the weight of their local health systems as those systems grow strong enough to effectively respond to the needs and barriers to care affecting the populations they serve.

An increasing number of individuals and organizations have come to recognize the importance of the health workforce and health system strengthening—adopting the same capacity-building approach that HVO has championed for decades. As health systems grow more robust and health workers become more skilled, the global health sector has grown increasingly focused on achieving health equity.

This objective aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is explicitly stated in Goal 3: “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” To achieve this goal, we must empower the health workforce in resource-scarce countries not only to react to localized disease outbreaks, but to proactively pursue new initiatives aimed at prevention and improved quality of life for patients around the globe.

HVO already supports a variety of projects and programs designed to enhance patients’ quality of life. Our physical therapy training programs, for example, have led to increased access to rehabilitation services for persons with disabilities in resource-scarce countries. These services, paired with appropriate assistive technologies, have enabled individuals who otherwise would have been excluded from social life to attend school, enter the workforce and achieve their fullest potential.

By increasing access to health services, from rehabilitation to mental health to cancer screening to diabetes education, HVO is helping to push the global health community incrementally closer to achieving the third SDG and its associated targets. Our success is due in large part to our ability to adapt and respond to trends in the global health sector. As we eagerly embrace new trends in our field, we are also eager to foster discussion as to how these trends may impact our organization. With this goal in mind, I am pleased to announce the launch of a new HVO blog series: “Addressing Trends in Global Health at HVO.”

Posts in this series will appear on a semi-regular basis and will explore how changes in the global health landscape may influence various aspects of HVO’s work and how they may affect the providers we serve. Already, we have recruited several notable members of the HVO community to contribute to this series, but we want to hear from you! If you have an idea for a topic you think we should cover, or if you would like to contribute a guest post to this series let us know by contacting our communications coordinator with your pitch. We look forward to hearing from you in what we hope will become an ongoing dialogue about HVO’s role in the changing global health sector.