Blog Posts by Kate Wright

The theme of this year’s Global Health Council annual conference was Securing a Healthier Future in a Changing World. As populations are shifting, so are their health priorities. Increasing urbanization has led to more people living in and around cities, creating a series of problems that are new to public health professionals. Nutritional challenges, the need for improved water and sanitation infrastructure, and addressing the issue of unregulated health care providers are all problems facing governments, ministries, NGOs, donors, and populations. In addition, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and mental illness, are adding a new strain to many already resource constrained health systems. Of course, immunization, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and maternal death are all still very serious challenges in many of these systems and remain key priorities.

My recent field visit has given me a great perspective on one of MSH’s major activities - the costing of health services. MSH has extensive costing experience in East Asia & Pacific, Latin America & the Caribbean, Southern Africa, and West Africa.

MSH developed and has helped manage multiple applications of the CORE Plus (Cost and Revenue Analysis Tool Plus). CORE Plus is a tool that helps managers and planners estimate the costs of individual services and packages of services in primary health care facilities as well as total costs for the facilities. The cost estimates are based on norms and can be used to determine the funding needs for services and can be compared with actual costs to measure efficiency.

Costing of health care services is a powerful exercise whose data and results can be used for a number of things. When the cost of a package of services is determined, the analysis can be used for practical purposes, such as planning and prioritization or allocation of funds based on known cost figures. Results from a costing study can also be used to set appropriate user fees or other prices linked to provision of services. Finally, results of a costing study can be used as an advocacy tool to ensure that appropriate funds are allocated for the package of services.

Malawi has some of the worst health statistics in the world, ranking 166 out of 177 countries. This is the result of HIV & AIDS, food insecurity, weak governance, and many human resources challenges. Health care vacancies range anywhere from 30-80%, and Malawi only has 252 doctors in the entire country. The health system is regularly plagued with stock outs of key medicines and supplies, as a result of poor procurement and distribution practices. Malawi has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world; the average prevalence for sub-Saharan Africa is 7.5%, Malawi has 12% prevalence in the adult population.

More than 50% of Malawi’s population lives further than 5 km from a health center.  Health care workers in the community, who are capable of providing essential health care services to those living in ‘hard to reach areas,’ are essential.  Meet the HSAs – Health Surveillance Assistants.

As Haitians continue to struggle against many obstacles in improving and developing their country, cholera and sanitation remain challenges to many development efforts.

Since the cholera epidemic started in October, there have been a total of 252,640 confirmed cases. MSH integrated its response, where appropriate, with the national response that was coordinated by the Ministry of Health. Following the earthquake, MSH’s USAID-funded Santé pour le Développement et la Stabilité d’Haíïti (SDSH) Project found that provision of basic health care through mobile kiosks in the settlement camp tents were an effective way to provide services and messages. Educational messages and oral rehydration solution (ORS) therapy are now being delivered via these kiosks. In addition, SDSH distributed cots, buckets, bleach, bottled water, and ORS to combat the disease.

I recently visited Haiti and had the opportunity to meet with some local Haitian non-governmental organizations supported by MSH’s Santé pour le Développement et la Stabilité d’Haíïti (SDSH) project, as well as the central Ministry of Health, and departmental Ministry of Health offices. I was searching for information in an effort to learn more about how Performance-Based Financing (PBF) has affected service delivery in Haiti. The SDSH-supported facilities produce monthly service utilization reports that capture the important information, but I’ve been working to obtain comparable information on other facilities. My first thought was the Health Information System (HIS) Unit at the Ministry of Health (MoH).

January 12, 2011 marks the one year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I have the good fortune of visiting MSH’s USAID-funded SDSH (Santé pour le Développement et la Stabilité d’Haíïti) project team in Port-au-Prince this week, and I traveled out into the city to see the devastation the earthquake caused.

Rubble and dust in Haiti a year after the earthquake.

It has been a catastrophic year for Haitians. The Haitians themselves say this, a people who are used to dealing with poverty, combined with yearly hurricanes, and near constant political instability. However, one thing has been made clear to me in the past few days that I have been on this island: Life Goes On.

One of the most striking admissions I heard during the Women Deliver 2010 conference in Washington DC (June 7-9) was that the major challenge facing maternal health improvement is a lack of political will. Kathleen Sebelius, the US Secretary for Health and Human Services, suggested that the problem with improving maternal mortality lay not with the lack of knowledge or interventions, but the political will to put that knowledge to action, the will to make maternal mortality a priority of governments, the will to stand up and say that the lives of women matter, and we MUST do something about it.