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Nurses at health clinic Virgen del Lourdes in Lima, Peru (Photo Credit: Leslie Alsheimer)

This is the first in a series of four stories about how strong health systems improve the health of women and children.

Last year, we shared with you stories of the people we work alongside all over the world. We introduced you to Aster Amanuel Desalegn, a 70 year-old woman from Ethiopia who relies on her town's public hospital for her diabetes medication. You met Linvell Nkhoma, a midwife manager in Malawi who lives on the hospital premises so she can be on call 24 hours per day. And you heard from Animata Bassama, a representative from a community in Mali that worked with MSH to open a center providing a safe space for gender-based violence survivors to seek medical and psychosocial care.

 {Photo Credit: Warren Zelman}A hospital in Mwene Ditu, DRCPhoto Credit: Warren Zelman

Before the civil war in the late 1990s, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had a large network of clinics and health facilities. But decades of conflict weakened a fragile health system and robbed this resource-rich country of its potential to become one of sub-Saharan Africa’s wealthiest nations. By 2010, 70 to 80 percent of Congolese people had little or no access to healthcare, and the country suffered from a lack of basic security, communication systems, power, clean water, and transportation. Exacerbated by a dearth of health providers, essential medicines and nutritious foods, the country’s maternal, infant, and child mortality rates rose to some of the highest in the world.

I’m in the U.S. this week to share my experiences working side-by-side with the Congolese government and partners on the Integrated Health Project (IHP), funded by USAID and implemented by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) and its partners, International Rescue Committee and Overseas Strategic Consulting, Inc. . The aim of IHP was to rebuild and strengthen the health system and improve health across 78 health zones in the country. In five years, IHP improved health services for more than 13 million people – 17 percent of the Congolese population.

Photo Credit: Tsion Issayas/MSH

This post was originally published on the SIAPS website on January 30, 2017. The Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS) program is funded by USAID and implemented by MSH. This project works to assure the availability of quality pharmaceutical products and effective pharmaceutical services.

Over the past two decades, Ethiopia has improved its delivery of primary health care services and begun to make great progress toward meeting the Millennium Development Goals, particularly with regard to maternal, newborn, and child health and the prevention and control of HIV and tuberculosis. Yet pharmaceutical services—a patient's last point of care and one of the country's single largest health care expenses—remain inadequate. While some medicines in stock expire, other needed medicines are frequently unavailable, and patients are dissatisfied with the poor quality of service they receive.

Photo Credit: Mark Tuschman

For the fifth year in a row as part of MSH's annual storytelling contest, we invited staff to submit stories on how health systems are saving lives and improving the health of people around the world. MSH staff submitted dozens of stories from 16 projects in 12 countries.

In these 12 winning stories, meet health workers, community leaders, pharmacy managers, and patients working together toward healthier communities. These stories demonstrate the power of effective partnerships to help save lives.

Ethiopia: Changing Systems to Change Lives: Aster's Story

By Tsion Issayas

 {Photo by: Simon Davis / DfID / CC BY}Marina Kamara, a doctor at the Connaight Hospital in Sierra Leone, follows up on a suspected kidney infection in one of their patients.Photo by: Simon Davis / DfID / CC BY

Global health advocates are urging G20 leaders to emphasize global health security by strengthening health systems in the poorest countries, reported Andrew Green in Devex December 21, 2016.

Previous G-20 summits have addressed individual epidemics, but public health professionals and advocates are urging the forum to widen its lens to include health systems, which form the first line of defense in emergencies. They hope the effort might ultimately help advance universal health coverage, which campaigners argue would provide the best guard against future epidemics.

“The problem isn’t the outbreak, which is an inevitability that will happen,” said Frank Smith, who heads the No More Epidemics campaign. “The problem is the capacity of the system to identify the threat as a threat and to respond effectively.”

Read the article on Devex

{Photo Credit: Warren Zelman}Photo Credit: Warren Zelman

This blog post was originally published on the SIAPS website on December 27, 2016.

It's been called the pharmaceutical sector, a drug supply or management system or the medical products building block. By any name, the part of a health system that deals with ensuring access to essential medicines, vaccines and medical products and their correct use–we call it a pharmaceutical system at SIAPS–is critical. Yet despite much research in the field on improving its performance and considerable progress towards strengthening its components, there is no apparent consensus on what constitutes a pharmaceutical system in all of its complexity.

In addition, there's no clearly defined framework for measuring progress in pharmaceutical system strengthening (PSS). That means that countries and donors lack complete information for guiding their investments in PSS interventions, and the tools and agreed-on measures to evaluate them.

Happy holidays and health on earth!

Envision a 2017 where everyone has the opportunity for a healthy life. Working together for stronger health systems around the world in 2017. Best wishes for the new year!

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{Photo credit: Tsion Issayas/MSH}Photo credit: Tsion Issayas/MSH

This post originally appeared on the Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS) Program blog as, "UHC Day 2016: Strong pharmaceutical management boosts access to essential medicines".

On this day (December 12) in 2014, the global health community made a commitment to universal health coverage (UHC) throughout the world. Although progress has been made, more than one billion people still lack access to basic health care. Further, as The Lancet Commission report, Essential Medicines for Universal Health Coverage, said in November, most low-income countries lack structural access to even basic essential medicines.

Bridging this gap requires system-wide interventions, such as strengthening the role of government, better medicines regulation, promoting quality use, and more transparency and accountability. These activities can reap big benefits.

With a sound pharmaceutical system, “for US $1–2 per month, every person in low-income and middle-income countries can have access to a basket of about 200 essential medicines,” according to the report.

{Photo by Warren Zelman}Photo by Warren Zelman

We all have an unprecedented opportunity to make universal health coverage a reality.

As a founding partner of the Universal Health Coverage Day (UHC Day) Coalition, Management Sciences for Health is joining forces with the global health community and urging everyone to take action toward universal health coverage on December 12.

UHC Day is founded on the idea that no one should go bankrupt when they get sick, that universal health coverage is a smart investment and an achievable goal everywhere, and that it underpins our collective security and prosperity.

MSH is doing our part to make UHC a reality by:

{Free antenatal and postnatal services encourage women to seek care at health facilities. Antenatal visits are of particular importance for awareness and early screening for chronic illnesses, which can avert costly treatment and save lives. (Photo credit: Adam Kone)}Free antenatal and postnatal services encourage women to seek care at health facilities. Antenatal visits are of particular importance for awareness and early screening for chronic illnesses, which can avert costly treatment and save lives. (Photo credit: Adam Kone)

This article was originally posted on the NCD Alliance's website. 

A few weeks ago I visited a health center in Freetown, the main port city and commercial center in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The health center is one of few health facilities serving the city, located in an urban area that is home to an estimated 1 million people. The clinic offers free antenatal care during pregnancy as part of the government's commitment to ensuring health care reaches all citizens.

The risk of a woman dying during pregnancy has long been unacceptably high in Sierra Leone, a problem that only worsened when Ebola hit in 2014. According to the latest figures from 2015, Sierra Leone has the worst maternal mortality ratio in the world. It is estimated that the lifetime risk of death during pregnancy and childbirth is 1 in 17. The burden of newborn deaths is also among the world’s highest, with a newborn mortality rate of 35 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015.

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