Health Alliance International

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Guest Op-Ed: Is global health about gizmos or people? | 

By Julia E. Robinson, director of advocacy programs for Health Alliance International at the University of Washington.

In Liberia, a health worker takes child's temperature at the FJ Grant District Hospital in Greenvile in the Sinoe County.
In Liberia, a health worker takes child’s temperature at the FJ Grant District Hospital in Greenvile in the Sinoe County.
AP

It’s an exciting time to be fighting for the “End of AIDS.”

Everyone from Hillary Clinton to Pope Francis is talking about the possibility of turning a corner on the pandemic. Advances in treatment and vaccine research hint there could be an AIDS-free generation in the near future. International donors are ponying up huge amounts of money for developing these new technologies.

Just last week, the United States Agency for International Development  (USAID) announced a $1 billion initiative called the Global Development Lab to keep churning out high tech solutions to some of the toughest public health problems facing the planet, including HIV.

Meanwhile, many poor countries and communities lack enough nurses, doctors and health workers to even carry out the most basic health services.

Global health experts talk about a ‘delivery bottleneck’ for new vaccines – a euphemistic way of describing the fact that Western innovations are piling up because the global south simply lacks the health care workforce and systems to deliver these new health technologies.

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Seattle parties to help ‘Mobile Moms’ in Timor-Leste | 

Melinda Gates was there. Supermodel Christy Turlington was there.

So were a thousand or two others, Seattle’s young humanitarians who started a Saturday evening bash with talks about maternal health but ended it with loud, thumping dance music.

Tom Paulson

Partying for a purpose at Agency 2012

This annual Seattle do-gooder event at McCaw Hall, sponsored by the Washington Global Health Alliance and formerly known as Party With A Purpose, is aimed at raising awareness among young people of critical issues in global health and also raising funds for a specific cause — all combined with some serious partying.

Now called Agency, this year’s event sought to educate the glam crowd of young do-gooders (and a few not-so-glam older folks like me) about the threat of maternal mortality and some of the efforts underway to increase safety of childbirth in poor countries.

The Seattle organization Health Alliance International, which recently launched a Mobile Moms text messaging service aimed at improving maternal health in Timor-Leste, is the beneficiary of the funds raised by the event’s ticket sales (which looked to be at least $40,000. Last year’s fund-raising focus was on the Infectious Disease Research Institute‘s TB work, which raised $34,000).

Tom Paulson

Susan Thompson of HAI's Timor-Leste program

“The idea is to use mobile phones, through text messaging, to get them the information they need for healthy births,” said Susan Thompson, head of the Timor-Leste program for HAI. The long-term goal, Thompson said, is to use this project to further her organization’s broader aim of strengthening the tiny country’s overall health system.

Because of the ubiquity of cell phones in even poor communities (Thompson said they did a survey and discovered 69% of the women had phones, and nearly all texted regularly), the idea is to test in Timor-Leste if reproductive health messaging using text messages sent to pregnant women will improve health outcomes.

“So-called ‘mHealth’ projects are very popular but we need to determine if they really work,” Thompson said.

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Feds deny funding to UW health project in Mozambique | 

The Obama Administration says it wants to re-invent foreign aid and one of its mantras is to increase “country ownership” of the programs it funds for improving health and welfare in poor countries.

Given this, it came as a shock to Dr. Stephen Gloyd and others at the UW’s Health Alliance International (HAI) when the government basically pulled the plug on a long-running AIDS health care project in Mozambique that is, or was anyway, widely regarded as a model of doing just that.

“It’s ironic given their goal of wanting to strengthen local governance,” said Gloyd, director at HAI.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) recently denied HAI its request for continued funding of the project — a $100 million, 5-year grant. As a result of losing its bid for the grant, the non-profit organization affiliated with the UW Global Health Department had to lay-off nearly 900 health workers in Mozambique and cut its Seattle staffing by half, from more than 40 down to 22 people.

“It’s been wrenching,” said Gloyd, who is also associate chairman of the UW Global Health Department.

As the Seattle Times reported this week, the non-profit health services organization had expanded greatly over the past five years to assist with the global efforts aimed at improving access to HIV treatment in Africa. Gloyd said they fully expected to continue doing this work. Continue reading

TEDxRainier talk: Global health needs solidarity, not charity | 

Here’s a video of the UW’s Dr. Wendy Johnson, director of new initiatives at Health Alliance International, at a recent TEDxRainier talk.

Johnson says that many of our international health efforts are “still based on the model of charity, like giving handouts to the homeless.” Too many of Seattle’s global health projects are based on technological fixes, she says, the magic bullet approach.

What’s needed, Johnson says, is a “new paradigm” for global health based on solidarity, on a recognition of our common bonds and interests, not charity.