Learn what our Gender Equity & Justice team is doing to identify and address issues of disparity that affect health equity.
Editor's note: In the third of a series of articles looking at each thematic area of the Alliance’s work, this month we shine the spotlight on our Transformative Technologies and Institutions (TTI) thematic area, led by Dr. Anthony So, and explain how the team's work supports health equity.
Innovation premised on access and co-production in the interests of health equity
In 2015, Gilead Sciences brought to market a life-saving medication called sofosbuvir (brand name: Sovaldi) that cures Hepatitis C. Gilead acquired this medication from another company, Pharmasset, but in so doing, priced the drug at $84,000 for a full course of treatment in the United States. While some parts of the world, notably India, have allowed the production of generics (drugs marketed without patented brand names) thereby reducing the cost of treatment in much of the world, treatment for Hepatitis C remains elusive. A 2018 WHO report showed, of the 71 million people affected by the disease, only about 1.5 million were able to access treatment.
How do we ensure that the remaining nearly 70 million people receive treatment? How do we reimagine processes of innovation and discovery to bring treatment to those who most need it? How do we ensure that the benefits of health technologies impact populations equitably?
In order to grapple with these issues, the Alliance for a Healthier World established the Transformative Technologies and Institutions (TTI) thematic area. Dr Anthony So, a veteran in addressing such challenges and a professor of the practice at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, leads this thematic area.
Addressing barriers to access
“We don’t think it’s enough to drop solutions into inequitable environments without some idea of how they can meaningfully be adopted,” Dr. So recently said in announcing the Alliance for a Healthier World’s sponsorship of the health equity prize at this year’s MedHacks 2018 health innovation competition.
This competition – drawing an anticipated 700 MedHack student participants from all over the country – will motivate students to think more deeply about how innovation reaches those in need. This is the first year the competition has a track focused exclusively on health equity.
A focus on health equity means aligning research and development (R&D) efforts with global health priorities, making discoveries affordable to those who need them, and ensuring that innovations physically reach those people. Through such approaches to increasing access, TTI focuses on how to unlock bottlenecks in the R&D pipeline, pioneering new ways of paying for innovations, and shifting how we deliver care to patients in need.
Open Access and health equity
Library costs worldwide for scientific journals and papers increased significantly between 1986 and 2001, with libraries paying 210% more for 5% fewer periodicals, as noted in a Lancet Commission report on the origins of health inequity. This “paywall” will continue to drive disparities between who can access scientific research and knowledge.
Nearly three quarters of all scholarly literature (research papers, review articles, etc.) is behind a paywall, inaccessible to those who cannot afford to pay the cost of a journal subscription. As an example, a basic search for all cancer articles available at the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Database, a common repository for biomedical literature, shows that over half of all scholarly articles are behind a paywall.
As one of the world’s leading producers of knowledge, receiving over $2 billion in federal funding for research, Johns Hopkins University’s research output significantly contributes to the global knowledge pool. With the announcement of its open access policy in July 2018, the University is well placed to rapidly expand the public benefit of sharing its research.
In collaboration with the Welch Medical Library, TTI will organize a series of seminars and activities during Open Access Week (October 22-28, 2018) to deepen University-wide understanding of the potential benefits of open access and open science to advance health equity.
Open science to advance health equity
Open access is one part of open science, which includes open methodology, open source technology, open data, open access publishing, open peer review and open educational resources.
Early in September, the Alliance will sponsor the first-ever health equity track as part of the annual MedHacks health innovation tournament held at the East Baltimore campus of JHU. The theme of the prize is "open science to advance health equity." The aim is to open new avenues for student innovators to make the the processes of innovation production more accessible and transparent, and easier to share resulting outputs. These improvements would reduce the unequal impact of technology on target populations.
Anthony So’s commitment to knowledge sharing
Dr. So’s commitment to knowledge-sharing in the interest of health equity dates back to his days as the associate director of the health equity division at the Rockefeller Foundation.
There, he co-founded a cross-thematic program on charting a fairer course for intellectual property rights and helped shape the foundation’s work on policy regarding access to medicines in developing countries. His grant-making efforts supported groups that negotiated the global entry of a generic AIDS triple therapy combination, reducing the cost of treatment $10,000-15,000 per patient per year to just $350--lowering the price of hope to less than a dollar a day.
He has also been part of pioneering efforts to promote open access, co-signing the 2003 Bethesda Open Access Declaration. Together with two other major milestones -- the Budapest Open Access Initiative and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Science -- these interventions have significantly shaped the move toward open access publication of scholarly content. He was also a member of PubMed Central’s Advisory Committee and has served on Open Society Institute’s Information Program Sub-board, as part of his deep commitment and passion to narrow the gap between those who have knowledge and those who need it.
Transforming technology and institutions collectively
More recently, through the Alliance’s planning grants, TTI, together with three other AHW thematic areas (Food & nutrition security, Healthy environments, Gender equity & justice), supported a project that typifies the Alliance’s multidisciplinary approach to innovation for health equity.
A team of researchers drawn from across the University -- from the Carey Business School, Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, Whiting School of Engineering, and Bloomberg School of Public Health -- joined forces to tackle the persistent problem of household air pollution caused by cooking with biomass fuel in Puno, a rural region of Peru. The wider problem of household air pollution is thought to contribute to 4.3 million premature deaths annually, disproportionately affecting women and children.
The multi-disciplinary Hopkins team, drawing on locally available materials, proposes "thermal cooking" as a solution. Their innovation involves using a new type of cook stove that uses liquid petroleum gas (LPG) instead of biomass fuel to heat the food for a short time at high temperature, before enclosing the pot in a heavily insulated container. This would cook the food, maintaining temperature for several hours, without releasing smoke.
If successful, this innovation would free biomass for alternative uses, thus saving money, and make available biomass as fertilizer for more nutritious crops. By using LPG, the cook stove reduces harmful agents emitted into households and external environments. It also reduces the effect of toxins released into the household, particularly on women and children, who disproportionately bear the consequences of biomass fuel use, as they spend up to six hours per day around a stove. By employing locally available materials, ensuring that the final cost of the stove would be affordable by those who would need to use it, and by serving a need with an identifiable benefit to the community, this proposed invention is truly transformative.
The project exemplifies an Alliance-wide approach to achieving health equity by combining the collective approaches we bring to tackling public health challenges and striving for a healthier and more equitable world.
Learn more about the work of AHW’s Transformative Technologies & Institutions here.
Read about the AHW's other research priorities, Food & Nutrition Security, Healthy Environments, and Gender Equity & Justice here.
This spotlight profile was written by Vinayak Bhardwaj, a Global Health Equity Scholar with the Alliance for a Healthier World.
Alliance's Peter Winch and Jess Fanzo join forces to examine the intersection of food, nutrition, and delivering health for all and highlight links to the 1978 Alma Ata Declaration.
The Alliance for a Healthier World was founded to build on the successes of multidisciplinary collaborations among faculty and researchers across Johns Hopkins, and to support initiatives that promote health equity around the world. To better understand the current work of Johns Hopkins faculty and researchers, we conducted a survey to gather information and gauge their interests in health equity.
“The goal of the survey was to get a better sense of what work is already being done in health equity across Johns Hopkins University,” said Anna Kalbarczyk, AHW Special Projects Advisor. “Each of us on the AHW team had an idea of who in our networks was doing what and where but the Alliance aims to reach beyond our basic networks, to build new relationships, and grow existing resources. This survey data, disseminated with the help of our interdisciplinary steering committee, reached a broad audience and offered unique insight into the health equity scene at Johns Hopkins.”
A whopping 248 faculty and staff across all Johns Hopkins divisions completed the survey during June 2017. One third of the respondents hailed from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, one fourth were affiliated with the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences and one fourth were from the School of Medicine. The remainder were spread across other divisions, including the Applied Physics Lab, Carey Business School, School of Nursing, and the Whiting School of Engineering. This university-wide interest demonstrates the diverse range of individuals with an interest in this common challenge – to address global health equity – a concept that requires engagement from a wide range of disciplines.
Working Across the Globe
Given our global focus, we wanted to find out which countries faculty have been working in for their projects. Of the 88 countries and areas recorded in the survey, the countries which respondents most frequently worked in are - in descending order - India, Uganda, China, South Africa, Kenya and Bangladesh. While most respondents reported working in Africa and South Asia, nearly 20% of the respondents have worked in East Asia/Pacific, and just over 10% have respectively worked in Latin America/Caribbean and Europe/Central Asia. JHU faculty are clearly engaged in impactful work in many corners of the world.
Partnerships, Partnerships, Partnerships
Partnerships are imperative for advancing health equity; this complex, multi-faceted challenge extends beyond public health and, so far, has not been accomplished by a single sector. We believe strategic partnerships and cross-sector collaborations are necessary to map out best practices to address what is happening on the ground in disadvantaged communities. We asked the respondents to share the nature of any partnerships they have established. Over 70% have in-country research partners, and about 50% of the respondents have education partners. Many have partnerships with policy stakeholders or networks and civil society organizations (over 30% of respondents, respectively).
The survey highlights our faculty and staff are engaged in a variety of partnerships around the globe, and present exciting opportunities for the Alliance to unite groups working towards a common goal.
Collaborative Opportunities Reign
To determine how to best serve the JHU community, the survey asked respondents to rank the types of activities that would interest them. They expressed the most interest in conducting collaborative multidisciplinary research, networking with others interested in global health equity, and collaborating for funding opportunities. Surprisingly, respondents expressed the least interest in receiving training for applying to collaborative funding opportunities and participating in social entrepreneurship challenges – both of which are fast growing sources of funding for innovative, interdisciplinary projects.
The survey reminded us that although faculty are interested in multidisciplinary collaborations, the work that goes into making these happen and to be successful are harder to implement and achieve. We are taking this into consideration as we look to how we can better support you, your colleagues and students to lead successful collaborations that incorporate engagement and input from other disciplines.
Onwards and Upwards
We’re sharing key data in an interactive summary report on our website - please view this for more detailed information on where your peers are working, how they are engaged with partners, and their interests in health equity opportunities.
One of the resounding impressions from the survey is that Johns Hopkins faculty across the university are clearly dedicated to tackling health equity. Our faculty know collaborative and multidisciplinary research works. Collectively, we know partnerships are the way forward to making the changes needed for addressing health equity.
Our team at AHW have our work cut out for us to engage you in meaningful ways to help you undertake these; we’re excited to lead the charge to work together as a unified force for change.
Article Compiled by The Alliance for a Healthier World Team
AHW would like to acknowledge Shirley Yan, MSPH 2019 candidate, who cleaned and analyzed the survey data.
Following my post on global to local learning opportunities from the first issue of the Health Equity Connector, let’s continue on the topic with more definition and clarity on what we mean by “global.” We’ll use this platform to engage in conversations with you about global health equity and intend for it to start conversations and spark new collaborations.
The term “global health” is imbued with grand scale and complexity, weightiness and aspiration. The phrasing is at once invitational and aspirational while also sounding technical and exclusive. Our Alliance for a Healthier World is built on the foundation of global health equity and we consider it our mission to make the concept, and the practical application, available and accessible to all. In other words, we want to explore the many ways you are already engaged in global health and health equity work, whether you use this specific language or other wording. While there are benefits in arriving at a unifying definition of global health, there is also value in the convenings and dialogue on this question that result in new understandings and new learning together, and we are excited to lean into that process.
In an effort to drive toward a shared understanding of global health, the Executive Board of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) published an article in The Lancet in 2009, “Towards a Common Definition of Global Health.” I’ve excerpted one section of the article here (boldface added for emphasis):
What is global? Must a health crisis cross national borders to be deemed a global health issue? We should not restrict global health to health-related issues that literally cross international borders. Rather, in this context, global refers to any health issue that concerns many countries or is affected by transnational determinants, such as climate change or urbanisation, or solutions, such as polio eradication. Epidemic infectious diseases such as dengue, influenza A (H5N1), and HIV infection are clearly global. But global health should also address tobacco control, micronutrient deficiencies, obesity, injury prevention, migrant-worker health, and migration of health workers. The global in global health refers to the scope of problems, not their location. Thus—like public health but unlike international health—global health can focus on domestic health disparities as well as cross-border issues.
In many instances, the challenges we address in public health and in global health are not defined by geography, but by social and structural determinants embedded in the fabric of our societies that profoundly shape our lives. It is precisely because global health seeks to establish causal linkages between the social and structural determinants of health and illness, and the resulting risks to entire communities and populations, that we start to see patterns emerge of similar risk profiles in unexpected places. A frequently cited Kaiser Health News article from 2016, with data from the Baltimore City Health Department and World Health Organization (WHO), looked at the metric of life expectancy at birth within different zip codes of Baltimore City and found an 18 year discrepancy between the highest life expectancy zip code (84 years) and the lowest one (66 years). What a staggering difference! As part of this investigation, the group generated this excellent infographic that overlays the name of the country that shares the same life expectancy with each Baltimore City zip code.
At the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity (JHCHE), led by Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and AHW Steering Committee member Dr. Lisa Cooper, adverse clinical outcomes experienced by individuals seeking care at the center are also physical manifestations of chronic and persistent poverty and lack of access to socio-economic opportunity. The Alliance has partnered with JHCHE to further understand and design programs to attack underlying social and structural barriers to health. In this partnership, the role of the Alliance is to bridge key findings and lessons from resource poor communities where our faculty work across the globe to the population served by JHCHE and the community leaders who help inform its programming. Stay tuned for upcoming interviews with Dr. Lisa Cooper and her team on this subject.
In rural Kenya and Rwanda where I lived and worked, chronic poverty is a feature of daily life and has been for many decades. Because of this, community members, public and private sector entities, have studied carefully the effects of chronic poverty on health outcomes and successfully experimented with public health, financial inclusion strategies and insurance structures to address the poor health outcomes.
The government of Kenya began an unconditional cash transfer program to the ultra-poor in Kenya in 2002. Unconditional cash transfers simply mean that the government sends recipient families the funds each month with no stipulations or conditions as to how the money is spent. The nongovernmental organization, GiveDirectly, began operations in Kenya in 2011 to augment the cash transfer program of the government and to analyze program results. The economic and psycho-social impacts of this program are well documented and are sufficiently dramatic to spur new thinking about global health and development work models.
In the early 2000’s, the government of Rwanda initiated a centrally planned national health care program to provide universal health access to all citizens. The financing mechanism designed to pay for the system halved the out-of-pocket cost per person, and the healthcare benefits resulted in the steepest decline in child mortality seen in the 20th century. As the U.S. wrangles with questions of new models for healthcare delivery, lessons from Rwanda can provide a case-study for one path forward.
New Series on Global to Local Learning
In future posts, we will dig deeper into specific examples of the global health programs and mechanisms mentioned above and share interviews with the frontline workers and community leaders implementing these health equity initiatives. We will also highlight the perspective of funding entities in the U.S. that are looking at this question of how best to harness lessons from global health across different settings and bring you voices from this sector.
We want to hear from you on this series of discussions about the role Johns Hopkins faculty, staff and students play as leaders, teachers and learners in the field of global health. Please be in touch with us via email: email@example.com.
We look forward to continuing this conversation in upcoming publications.
Ben Link is the Executive Manager at the Alliance for a Healthier World (AHW). He brings over 15 years of experience working in both the nonprofit and private sectors on initiatives related to global health and development in diverse settings across southern and eastern Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Navajo Nation.
The first few days of a baby’s life is especially critical – each year, more than 2.5 million newborns die within their first month, primarily from preventable causes. A Johns Hopkins team is developing and piloting NeMo, a neonatal monitoring device that closely monitors a newborn’s key vital signs to reduce mortality rates in the baby’s first 7 days. The project empowers mothers from low-resource settings by educating them how to identify neonatal illnesses – mostly preventable illnesses such as sepsis, pneumonia, and hypothermia – and when to seek care from a community health worker.
Led by Soumyadipta Acharya, graduate program director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (CBID), the project has tapped into a wide range of talents and skills from CBID graduate student teams and faculty. Ben Ostrander, CBID graduate student and the Alliance for a Healthier World (AHW) Global Health Equity Scholar for the Transformative Technologies and Institutions (TTI) theme, has contributed to testing and improving the NeMo prototype during the past year. He shares his perspective below about the project and the challenges and successes that come with collaborating with an interdisciplinary team.
Student Scholar Voice
Recent recipient of MSE in Bioengineering Innovation and Design + MD Candidate + AHW Global Health Equity Scholar
My experience with the NeMo project was stimulating and rewarding. I was attracted to the project’s approach to addressing the problem of neonatal mortality – which shifts the opportunity for identifying newborn illness from community health workers to mothers themselves. With more than 2.5 million newborn deaths each year, this is definitely a problem worth tackling. There are so many moving parts to creating and implementing a technology that can accomplish the project’s goal, and understanding how to make them fit together and work well is an enlightening and challenging task.
NeMo aligns well with AHW’s goal to support research to implement transformative technology and gender equity. Using a smartphone-based application and low cost wearable sensors, NeMo leverages technology to quickly identify newborn illness during the first week of life and to ultimately save lives. We envision increasing mothers’ ability to identify newborn illness early and at home as a step towards health equity. Since our intervention is dependent on a variety of technologies, from cell phones to novel sensor engineering, the project is a good example of what the Alliance’s transformative technologies and institutions thematic area strives to support. Additionally, since our system focuses on empowering and educating mothers, there is also a component of gender equity at play. We want to support womens’ opportunity to become knowledgeable about maternal and infant health, and to enable effective choices for their own and their infant’s health.
I learned so much about teamwork through my year in the CBID graduate program and through working on the NeMo team. Our core team was made of up three biomedical engineers, an electrical/mechanical engineer, and a medical student with an engineering and global health background. We were the most diverse team in our cohort and this turned out to be a huge advantage. We learned how to work with each other and play to our different strengths and weaknesses.
While our diverse and interdisciplinary backgrounds sometimes led to disagreement, this struggle made us a better team and actually improved our output in the long run. I found that our team functioned best when we were patient and understanding. We all became better listeners and collaborated more seamlessly as the year went on. Importantly, we also gave each other “free passes” - an understanding that sometimes people will be late or won’t meet a deadline or finish a deliverable, but as long as this was a rare occurrence we wouldn’t make a big fuss about it. Moving forward, I have a much better idea of how to create, manage, and participate in a highly functional and interdisciplinary team, and have learned many strategies and skills to do so.
NeMo - Winning Multiple Awards
The NeMo team’s hard work is paying off. In 2016, the team was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their Grand Challenges Explorations program. This past April 2018, Ben Ostrander joined his team in receiving the second place award, totaling $25,000, in the Global Social Venture Competition. The international competition had over 550 entries during the 2018 round from entrepreneurs who are scaling their projects for social or environmental impact.
Check out the video of the Johns Hopkins team receiving their 2nd place award at the Global Social Venture Competition finals in Milan, Italy.
Good health and wellbeing improves the quality of life beyond the individual – they spill over to families, communities and regions. The Alliance’s bold mission to promote health equity means supporting efforts to ensure that all people have full and equal access to opportunities that enable them to lead healthy lives.
We’ve started to tackle this grand challenge by specializing in cross-disciplinary, applied research to understand and seek solutions, and to translate research to engage policy makers and decisionmakers. We do this by bringing together Johns Hopkins faculty and students, as well as partners and communities around the word to integrate scientific, analytic and creative capabilities to advance health equity worldwide.
Our Healthier World team identified four thematic areas where an integration of expertise and perspectives is needed to address difficult and inter-dependent social problems. This intends to focus research and innovation on areas where Johns Hopkins University is best positioned to harness its expertise to make impact. These priority areas include: food & nutrition security, healthy environments, gender equity & justice, and transformative technologies & institutions.
Each thematic area addresses underlying issues that exacerbate health inequity around the world. They are also connected to each other; the AHW will support work both within and especially across thematic areas. The four priority areas are introduced below.
Over the next few months, we'll also take a closer look at each; in this article, we focus on Healthy Environments, its importance and how it interfaces with other thematic areas.
Introducing Our Four Thematic Areas
1. Food & Nutrition Security
The Food & Nutrition Security team focuses on linkages between food systems and environments, and dietary diversity and quality to maintain nutrition and health in an era of rapid urbanization, globalization and growing inequality.
Their research integrates perspectives and methods from public health, nutritional sciences, food security and agriculture, ethics and economics to address nutritional inequities in underserved communities worldwide.
2. Healthy Environments
The Healthy Environments team explores how the impacts of global climate change and environmental degradation compounds inequalities in people’s health and nutrition.
Their research identifies and promotes mitigation strategies to reduce carbon emissions and their harmful effects on the environment and health, particularly in poor and marginalized communities.
3. Gender Equity & Justice
The Gender Equity & Justice team examines impacts of gender-based power disparities, oppression and discrimination on health equity.
Their work develops, implements and evaluates initiatives to advance gender equity and justice for more healthy, peaceful and prosperous societies, and to train the next generation of leaders.
4. Transformative Technologies & Institutions
The Transformative Technologies & Institutions (TTI) team explores ways to design, market, produce, deliver and support health care services and products, emphasizing quality of care and incorporating efficient use of resources.
They apply community perspectives and systems thinking to improve processes, infrastructure and institutions that fosters successful new technologies for reducing health inequities.
A Closer Look at Healthy Environments
For healthy people, we need a healthy environment. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the climate, and the soil in which we grow food all affect our health. Many diseases, conditions and challenges in quality of life stem from environmental conditions. Climate scientists have well-documented that global environmental change – encompassing changes in climate, ecosystems, biodiversity, hydrological systems, food systems, and water quality – are being felt at local and global levels.
Dr. Peter Winch, AHW Thematic Lead for Healthy Environments, stresses that “global health must involve not just preventing and treating diseases, but also caring for the ecosystems upon which we depend for our health and nutrition.”
Healthy Environments, like other AHW thematic areas, cut across many fields and require multidisciplinary collaborations to understand and find solutions for fostering environments conducive to good health. This challenge calls for multiple, purposeful actions to assist communities most impacted by inequities that result from environmental degradation and accumulating greenhouse gases.
Key Areas within our Healthy Environments theme
Under the leadership of Dr. Winch, the team will examine several areas:
Sustainable and readily adoptable alternatives for reducing indoor and outdoor air pollution and their impacts on health. For instance, clean cookstoves use less fuel and reduce emissions – and in turn, reduce the burden on women and children for accessing fuel, as well as reduce their exposure to the harmful emissions, unlike traditional cookstoves.
- The Alliance recently funded pilot research to improve the technology of cookstoves to be cleaner, healthier, and affordable.
- Another funded research team is using community-based participatory approaches to plan actions for asthma treatment in Lima, Peru.
- Further details on these research awards are available here.
Retrofitting existing health facilities, particularly in hard to access areas, to be more self-sufficient. The Healthy Environments team will examine ways facilities can adopt clean energy, access and manage water and more efficiently use resources. This approach integrates with the Transformative Technologies & Institutions thematic area.
Understand and intervene in health, nutrition, and agricultural impacts of degrading land in fragile regions. Rising sea levels are spilling saltwater onto agricultural lands, and as a consequence, changing the soil’s salinity level to a point where it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to grow produce. Coastal Bangladesh is an example of a fragile region where agricultural impacts also affect health and nutrition for a large population. This focus will work in tandem with the Food & Nutrition Security thematic area.
Develop new program models for combining community health and environmental sustainability. Poor communities are more likely to live in precarious and unhealthy environments, and have fewer resources to devote to adaptation approaches to be resilient to a changing environment. The Healthy Environments team will examine and identify gaps in existing models and develop new or enhanced approaches for addressing these challenges.
Further Efforts Within JHU Community
Closer to home, Winch looks to collective actions by the entire Johns Hopkins community.
The university’s Office of Sustainability as been implementing projects and educating faculty, staff and students to reduce the university’s carbon footprint.
- The Center for a Livable Future has been taking a holistic approach to the environmental and health impacts of food production and consumption.
- The Bloomberg American Health Initiative supports training and leadership for practitioners and researchers focused on environmental challenges and other areas affecting the health of Americans.
- The Alma Ata 40 Campaign is an effort led by David Bishai, Professor of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to reinforce the value of primary health care, an approach recognized as vital in the Health For All, Alma Ata Declaration of 1978.
- This month, Dr. Winch describes the ways the Alliance’s thematic areas, including Healthy Environments, draw from international voices such as the Alma Ata Declaration.
Winch and team hope to build on these successes and strengthen Johns Hopkins’ collective knowledge and motivations for a series of actions to promote healthy environments for all, particularly for those who have been marginalized politically, socially and economically.
United Nations Environment Programme. (2012). Global Environment Outlook: Environment for the future we want. Progress Press. http://web.unep.org/geo/sites/unep.org.geo/files/documents/geo5_report_full_en_0.pdf
World Health Organization. “Global Environmental Change” http://www.who.int/globalchange/environment/en/
Peter Winch is the Thematic Leader for Healthy Environments at the Alliance for a Healthier World (AHW). As Professor in the Social and Behavioral Interventions Program in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, he teaches courses on qualitative and formative research and applied medical anthropology. His work aims to: 1) improve the health of mothers and children in areas where access to health facilities is poor or non-existent, and 2) develop and evaluate behavior change interventions and health system responses to global environmental threats.
As we focus future efforts on addressing health equity in low-and middle- income communities, there is value in reflecting on past approaches to health care for the world’s most disadvantaged people. Newly independent countries were emerging in mid-twentieth century – and along with new governments also came the need for new infrastructure, including health care. By the 1970s, the public health field recognized that Primary Health Care (PHC) was not being served or accessible to where many people live and work. Enter the Alma Ata Declaration, which urged governments, health and development workers, and the world community to protect and promote the health of all people.
To achieve the vision of Health for All, the Declaration advocated decentralizing power and decision-making away from government offices in the capital city and away from doctors and nurses providing care in hospitals, to the people at the grassroots level. In 1978 when the Declaration was adopted, Primary Health Care meant working with community members to take stock of their health and living conditions, and by taking maximum advantage of the commitment and skills of local people to achieve health. Now in 2018, in an era of global climate change and environmental degradation, it is no longer sufficient to empower local people to take action locally as a standalone approach.
The Commission on Planetary Health, led by The Lancet and Rockefeller Foundation, took the Alma Ata Declaration a step further with their Planetary Health program. They are investing in a new multidisciplinary field that incorporates global and local-level action to improve health and wellbeing of low-income communities and to reduce consumption by wealthy communities – all while also maintaining ecosystems and biodiversity for future generations.
Primary Health Care that incorporates Planetary Health must also work to reduce global consumption of fossil fuels and other resources, reduce the environmental impacts of food production, maintain ecosystems and promote biodiversity. For health systems, this means continuing to work toward decentralizing decision-making, empowering local stakeholders, and localizing health system inputs such as energy, construction materials and food.
The New Primary Health Care
This expanded concept of Primary Health Care is summarized in the following table. It animates and informs the work of several thematic areas in the Alliance for a Healthier World, particularly for the Healthy Environments area.
We are rapidly approaching the 40th anniversary of the International Conference on Primary Health Care held in September 1978, and that issued the Declaration. Carl Taylor, the Chair of the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health at the time, played a major role in drafting the Alma Ata Declaration.
Currently, Johns Hopkins faculty and students are spearheading a working group, the Alma Ata 40 Campaign to mark the anniversary in September 2018, and renew collective commitment to the vision of health for all and health equity enshrined in the Declaration. The global health community will mark the 40th anniversary of the Alma Ata Declaration with a conference on Oct 25–26, 2018 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Editor's Note: This article is the first in a series we’ll publish about the Health for All principles underpinning the Alma Ata Declaration and the roles that all members of the Johns Hopkins community can adopt to help achieve its vision.
Dalglish SL, Poulsen MN, Winch PJ. (2013). “Localization of health systems in low- and middle-income countries in response to long-term increases in energy prices.” Globalization and Health. 9:56.
United Nations Environment Programme. (2012). Global Environment Outlook: Environment for the future we want. Progress Press.
Whitmee S, Haines A, Beyrer C, Boltz F, Capon AG, de Souza Dias BF, Ezeh A, Frumkin H, Gong P, Head P, Horton R, Mace GM, Marten R, Myers SS, Nishtar S, Osofsky SA, Pattanayak SK, Pongsiri MJ, Romanelli C, Soucat A, Vega J, Yach D. (2015). “Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of The Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on planetary health.” The Lancet. 386(10007): 1973-2028.
Peter Winch is the Theme Leader for Healthy Environments at the Alliance for a Healthier World (AHW). As Professor in the Social and Behavioral Interventions Program in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, he teaches courses on qualitative and formative research and applied medical anthropology. His work aims to: 1) improve the health of mothers and children in areas where access to health facilities is poor or non-existent, and 2) develop and evaluate behavior change interventions and health system responses to global environmental threats.
David Peters introduces our publication as the go-to source for new knowledge and opportunities related to global health equity.