This afternoon, Dr. Ayorinde Ayaji led a lively panel discussion on the subject of alternative approaches to development, from the benefits of technology to a debate about investing in the public versus private sectors.
Ahoua Koné, a clinical assistant professor in the UW School of Public Health who also works with Health Alliance International, began by discussing the unique approach to global health at HAI. She emphasized the need to trust in governments’ abilities to provide health care.
At HAI, Koné has worked with the Ministry of Health in Côte d’Ivoire to improve infrastructure, providing women with HIV counseling and testing when they come in for antenatal care. She noted the problem of NGOs who say they do not trust the local government but hire doctors and professionals trained by that government. This is where the issue of trust comes in.
On a different note, Guy Stallworthy, a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, stressed the role of private organizations in improving global health. He talked about the focus on technological solutions, but also the important consideration of improving how health systems function.
Stallworthy cited Jeff Raikes, BMGF’s chief executive officer, as saying that technological transformation has to go hand in hand with business model transformation. He believes that optimizing health delivery systems is neither simple nor straightforward.
The third panelist, Dr. Kentaro Toyama, a physicist in the School of Information at UC Berkeley, discussed the increasing attention paid to communication technologies but urged the audience to question the belief that these innovations are universally good.
After a study with accredited social health activists in India, Toyama found that the real barriers to health could not be solved with technology. Women in the community were still undereducated and lack of community trust prevented the women from fully achieving their goals.
Toyama’s takeaway message? “It’s best to think of technology as an amplifier of the underlying institutional human capacity already in place.”
Dr. Ayaji mentioned that a lot of health work gets caught in the periphery, and asked Koné how to scale up technologies for sustainable programs.
She believes that working with governments is not easy but it is worth it because it ends in a more sustainable system. She also pointed out that corruption is not reserved for developing countries.
Stallworthy countered that we should not be quick to assume that either the public or private sector is the only solution to these problems. The challenge should instead be about achieving equitable coverage in any way possible.
Toyama reemphasized his points about technology. New technological tools will only amplify existing intentions and capacity. He says that it would be more fruitful if people stopped looking for shortcuts to achieve solutions.
Despite some differences, everyone on the panel seemed to agree that there was work to be done and that everyone has a role to play.
As Stallworthy said, “We should stop thinking about aid as charity and instead think about it as institutionalized global solidarity.”
By Rachel Beck