Health will be integrated into development agendas

In 2017, we will see health being integrated with other development areas. This will be shaped by more person-centered approaches and a more holistic understanding of the ecosystem our interventions exist in.

While these approaches are not new, there is still a gap in implementing them. The development sector is slow to change from its current mindset of seeing patients as consumers, who may not only be in need of health interventions, but have to demand these services in order to have their needs met. In a changing funding environment, INGOs have to rethink how to make our interventions more effective. Taking an innovative, integrated approach to delivering health is key.

According to the Education Commission’s recent report, more than 30 million primary and lower-secondary school age children with disabilities in developing countries are out of school. Many can’t attend because of common health problems, such as worm infection, visual impairment and poor nutrition. Education departments, health departments, and finance ministries struggle to address huge needs with limited resources, while children and parents are often reluctant to take up services, through lack of awareness and misbelief about the benefits.

Combining health innovations (screening, diagnosis, treatment, referral and data management) with a greater understanding of a community’s value systems and behaviours can facilitate more effective, lower-cost service delivery. Ecosystem mapping can then inform responses to increasing demand.

The 2016 School Health Integrated Programming project used schools as a platform to deliver health services to 56,000 children. Run in four pilot countries, the project built awareness and acceptability of deworming and vision screening amongst children, teachers and parents. The project also created a blueprint for governments to scale up school health interventions by transforming them from a health to an education intervention.

In 2017, I predict this type of integrated approach will become more widespread, aided by growing opportunities to use mobile-based platforms to assist with diagnostic testing and data management.