March 18, 2014 |

The best buys in global health

Boy receives vaccination in arm from woman.
A boy in India is immunized against Japanese encephalitis. Photo: PATH/Julie Jacobson.

On March 19, I joined a panel of international leaders, researchers, and health colleagues to dig deeply into a crucial question: which investments will help us save the lives of more women and children?

The event, organized by PATH, Devex, PSI, and partners, introduced “Best Buys in Global Health,” a special issue of Impact magazine. As I prepared for the event, I thought about some of my own top choices. The great return on investing in women, as I’ve written here before, stands out as an unquestionable best buy in my mind. So do a few others:

Build on local ideas

Today, great ideas are springing from every corner of the globe. Entrepreneurs, businesses, health workers, and leaders everywhere are bringing new solutions to the health challenges facing their countries and regions.

Smiling woman holds twin infants on her lap, with text, '10 innovations to save lives now. Read the feature.'"
Photo: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.

It pays to support and align these efforts. For instance, PATH is establishing Global Innovation Hubs to link diverse partners in South Africa, India, and other countries to design, develop, produce, and introduce lifesaving innovations. These hubs will help ensure innovative health products reach and maintain momentum from smart concept to lifesaving use.

Take innovation to scale

There is no shortage of good solutions to improve health. The challenge is getting them to the people who need them. That’s why some best buys aren’t products or services alone, but the work that makes them affordable and accessible to millions of people. This takes an end-to-end commitment,  breaking down barriers all the way from early research to market introduction, and harnessing expertise across countries and sectors to succeed.

Once these products reach users, they do more than improve health—they transform lives. For years, for example, cost and other factors put a vaccine against deadly Japanese encephalitis out of reach for millions of children. So we collaborated with a Chinese manufacturer and international partners to create a vaccine that is not only safe and effective, but affordable for the countries that need it.

Another example: in Senegal, a coalition of partners, including Senegal’s National Malaria Program and PATH, began exploring new ways to increase access to and use of tools for malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Results were dramatic: from 2006 to 2013, malaria death rates in Senegal dropped by 62 percent.

Collect better data

It’s more important than ever for the global community to make deliberate and accountable choices. Yet we still lack the data we need to do the best work possible.

That’s one reason investing in digital health (information and communication technologies that support health) is a best buy in my book. From mobile phone-based platforms that allow workers to monitor malaria to national systems that provide more accurate, timely, and specific immunization data, these agile tools are already improving health. As local, regional, and global systems collect and share more data, our ability to target and improve our work will increase markedly.

All of this is just a start. Read the magazine and tell us what you think. What are your best buys for global health?

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  • Amie Batson is the chief strategy officer and vice president of Strategy and learning at PATH.