This is a reply to the paper entitled Structure, (governance) and health: an unsolicited response by Daniel D Reidpath and Pascale Allotey
The editors of BMC International health and human rights would like to thank all our reviewers who have contributed to the journal in Volume 14 (2014).
Although the challenges of working with culturally and linguistically diverse groups can lead to the exclusion of some communities from research studies, cost effective strategies to encourage access and promote cross-cultural linkages between researchers and ethnic minority participants are essential to ensure their views are heard and their health needs identified. Using bilingual research assistants is one means to achieve this. In a study exploring alcohol and other drug service use by migrant women in Western Australia, bilingual workers were used to assist with participant recruitment and administration of a survey to 268 women who spoke more than 40 different languages.
Professional interpreters, bilingual students, bilingual overseas-trained health professionals and community sector bilingual workers were used throughout the research project. For the initial qualitative phase, professional interpreters were used to conduct interviews and focus group sessions, however scheduling conflicts, inflexibility, their inability to help with recruitment and the expense prompted exploration of alternative options for interview interpreting in the quantitative component of the study. Bilingual mature-age students on work placement and overseas-trained health professionals provided good entry into their different community networks and successfully recruited and interviewed participants, often in languages with limited interpreter access. Although both groups required training and supervision, overseas-trained health professionals often had existing research skills, as well as understanding of key issues such as confidentiality and referral processes. Strategies to minimise social desirability bias and the need to set boundaries were discussed during regular debriefing sessions. Having a number of workers recruiting participants also helped minimise the potential for selection bias. The practical and educational experience gained by the bilingual workers was regarded as capacity building and a potentially valuable community resource for future health research projects.
The use of bilingual workers was key to the feasibility and success of the project. The most successful outcomes occurred with students and overseas-trained health professionals who had good community networks for recruitment and the required linguistic skills. By describing the advantages and disadvantages encountered when working with bilingual workers, we offer practical insights to assist other researchers working with linguistically diverse groups.
Bilingual workers; Cross cultural research; Migrants; Refugees; Communication; Interpreting
The present Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in 2015 and their next iteration is now being discussed within the international community. With regards to health, the World Health Organization proposes universal health coverage as a ‘single overarching health goal’ for the next iteration of the Millennium Development Goals.
The present Millennium Development Goals have been criticised for being ‘duplicative’ or even ‘competing alternatives’ to international human rights law. The question then arises, if universal health coverage would indeed become the single overarching health goal, replacing the present health-related Millennium Development Goals, would that be more consistent with the right to health? The World Health Organization seems to have anticipated the question, as it labels universal health coverage as “by definition, a practical expression of the concern for health equity and the right to health”.
Rather than waiting for the negotiations to unfold, we thought it would be useful to verify this contention, using a comparative normative analysis. We found that – to be a practical expression of the right to health – at least one element is missing in present authoritative definitions of universal health coverage: a straightforward confirmation that international assistance is essential, not optional.
But universal health coverage is a ‘work in progress’. A recent proposal by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network proposed universal health coverage with a set of targets, including a target for international assistance, which would turn universal health coverage into a practical expression of the right to health care.
Millennium development goals; Universal health coverage; Right to health
Vaccination is a cost-effective public health measure and is central to the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality. However, childhood vaccination coverage remains sub-optimal in many settings. While communication is a key feature of vaccination programmes, we are not aware of any comprehensive approach to organising the broad range of communication interventions that can be delivered to parents and communities to improve vaccination coverage. Developing a classification system (taxonomy) organised into conceptually similar categories will aid in: understanding the relationships between different types of communication interventions; facilitating conceptual mapping of these interventions; clarifying the key purposes and features of interventions to aid implementation and evaluation; and identifying areas where evidence is strong and where there are gaps. This paper reports on the development of the ‘Communicate to vaccinate’ taxonomy.
The taxonomy was developed in two stages. Stage 1 included: 1) forming an advisory group; 2) searching for descriptions of interventions in trials (CENTRAL database) and general health literature (Medline); 3) developing a sampling strategy; 4) screening the search results; 5) developing a data extraction form; and 6) extracting intervention data. Stage 2 included: 1) grouping the interventions according to purpose; 2) holding deliberative forums in English and French with key vaccination stakeholders to gather feedback; 3) conducting a targeted search of grey literature to supplement the taxonomy; 4) finalising the taxonomy based on the input provided.
The taxonomy includes seven main categories of communication interventions: inform or educate, remind or recall, teach skills, provide support, facilitate decision making, enable communication and enhance community ownership. These categories are broken down into 43 intervention types across three target groups: parents or soon-to-be-parents; communities, community members or volunteers; and health care providers.
Our taxonomy illuminates and organises this field and identifies the range of available communication interventions to increase routine childhood vaccination uptake. We have utilised a variety of data sources, capturing information from rigorous evaluations such as randomised trials as well as experiences and knowledge of practitioners and vaccination stakeholders. The taxonomy reflects current public health practice and can guide the future development of vaccination programmes.
Childhood; Vaccination; Immunisation; Communication; Low- and middle-income country; Intervention; Consumer; Taxonomy; Parents
A third of sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) population comprises persons aged 10–24 years. These youth are growing up in a context marked by pervasive poverty, limited educational opportunities, high HIV/AIDS prevalence, widespread conflict, and weak social controls. Published research on the broad issues that affect youth health and wellbeing in SSA is limited and centers heavily on sexual and reproductive health. In this commentary, we provide a broad overview of sub-Saharan African youth, highlight research gaps with respect to youth health and wellbeing, and describe potential avenues to develop the region’s research capacity on youth health and wellbeing.
Youth; Sub-Saharan Africa; Research
Poor quality housing is an infringement on the rights of all humans to a standard of living adequate for health. Among the many vulnerabilities of those without adequate shelter is the risk of disease spread by rodents and other pests. One such disease is Lassa fever, an acute and sometimes severe viral hemorrhagic illness endemic in West Africa. Lassa virus is maintained in the rodent Mastomys natalensis, commonly known as the “multimammate rat,” which frequently invades the domestic environment, putting humans at risk of Lassa fever. The highest reported incidence of Lassa fever in the world is consistently in the Kenema District of Sierra Leone, a region that was at the center of Sierra Leone’s civil war in which tens of thousands of lives were lost and hundreds of thousands of dwellings destroyed. Despite the end of the war in 2002, most of Kenema’s population still lives in inadequate housing that puts them at risk of rodent invasion and Lassa fever. Furthermore, despite years of health education and village hygiene campaigns, the incidence of Lassa fever in Kenema District appears to be increasing. We focus on Lassa fever as a matter of human rights, proposing a strategy to improve housing quality, and discuss how housing equity has the potential to improve health equity and ultimately economic productivity in Sierra Leone. The manuscript is designed to spur discussion and action towards provision of housing and prevention of disease in one of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Lassa fever; Arenavirus; Mastomys natalensis; Housing equity; Health equity; Public health; Global health
This research assesses informal markets that dominate pharmaceutical systems in severely disrupted countries and identifies areas for further investigation. Findings are based on recent academic papers, policy and grey literature, and field studies in Somalia, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti. The public sector in the studied countries is characterized in part by weak Ministries of Health and low donor coordination. Informal markets, where medicines are regularly sold in market stalls and unregulated pharmacies, often accompanied by unqualified medical advice, have proliferated. Counterfeit and sub-standard medicines trade networks have also developed. To help increase medicine availability for citizens, informal markets should be integrated into existing access to medicines initiatives.
There has been increasing focus on the role of health systems in low and middle-income countries. Despite this, very little evidence exists on how best to build health systems program and research capacity in educational programs. The current experiences in building capacity in health systems in five of the most prominent global health programs at Australian universities are outlined. The strengths and weaknesses of various approaches and techniques are provided along with examples of global practice in order to provide a foundation for future discussion and thus improvements in global health systems education.
A pool of 38 pan-African Centres of Excellence (CoEs) in health innovation has been selected and recognized by the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI), through a competitive criteria based process. The process identified a number of opportunities and challenges for health R&D and innovation in the continent: i) it provides a direct evidence for the existence of innovation capability that can be leveraged to fill specific gaps in the continent; ii) it revealed a research and financing pattern that is largely fragmented and uncoordinated, and iii) it highlights the most frequent funders of health research in the continent. The CoEs are envisioned as an innovative network of public and private institutions with a critical mass of expertise and resources to support projects and a variety of activities for capacity building and scientific exchange, including hosting fellows, trainees, scientists on sabbaticals and exchange with other African and non-African institutions.
Reproductive technologies have been extensively debated in the literature. As well, feminist economists, environmentalists, and agriculturalists have generated substantial debate and literature on gender. However, the implications for women of health biotechnologies have received relatively less attention. Surprisingly, while gender based frameworks have been proposed in the context of public health policy, practice, health research, and epidemiological research, we could identify no systematic framework for gender analysis of health biotechnology in the developing world.
We propose sex and gender considerations at five critical stages of health biotechnology research and development: priority setting; technology design; clinical trials; commercialization, and health services delivery.
Applying a systematic sex and gender framework to five key process stages of health biotechnology research and development could be a first step towards unlocking the opportunities of this promising science for women in the developing world.
As countries strive to strengthen their health systems in resource constrained contexts, policy makers need to know how best to improve the performance of their health systems. To aid these decisions, health system stewards should have a good understanding of how health systems operate in order to govern them appropriately. While a number of frameworks for assessing governance in the health sector have been proposed, their application is often hindered by unrealistic indicators or they are overly complex resulting in limited empirical work on governance in health systems. This paper reviews contemporary health sector frameworks which have focused on defining and developing indicators to assess governance in the health sector. Based on these, we propose a simplified approach to look at governance within a common health system framework which encourages stewards to take a systematic perspective when assessing governance. Although systems thinking is not unique to health, examples of its application within health systems has been limited. We also provide an example of how this approach could be applied to illuminate areas of governance weaknesses which are potentially addressable by targeted interventions and policies. This approach is built largely on prior literature, but is original in that it is problem-driven and promotes an outward application taking into consideration the major health system building blocks at various levels in order to ensure a more complete assessment of a governance issue rather than a simple input-output approach. Based on an assessment of contemporary literature we propose a practical approach which we believe will facilitate a more comprehensive assessment of governance in health systems leading to the development of governance interventions to strengthen system performance and improve health as a basic human right.
In September 2003, the Canadian government committed to developing legislation that would facilitate greater access to affordable medicines for developing countries. Over the course of eight months, the legislation, now known as Canada's Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), went through a controversial policy development process and the newspaper media was one of the major venues in which the policy debates took place. The purpose of this study was to examine how the media framed CAMR to determine how policy goals were conceptualized, which stakeholder interests controlled the public debate and how these variables related to the public policy process.
We conducted a qualitative content analysis of newspaper coverage of the CAMR policy and implementation process from 2003-2008. The primary theoretical framework for this study was framing theory. A total of 90 articles from 11 Canadian newspapers were selected for inclusion in our analysis. A team of four researchers coded the articles for themes relating to access to medicines and which stakeholders' voice figured more prominently on each issue. Stakeholders examined included: the research-based industry, the generic industry, civil society, the Canadian government, and developing country representatives.
The most frequently mentioned themes across all documents were the issues of drug affordability, intellectual property, trade agreements and obligations, and development. Issues such as human rights, pharmaceutical innovation, and economic competitiveness got little media representation. Civil society dominated the media contents, followed far behind by the Canadian government, the research-based and generic pharmaceutical industries. Developing country representatives were hardly represented in the media.
Media framing obscured the discussion of some of the underlying policy goals in this case and failed to highlight issues which are now significant barriers to the use of the legislation. Using the media to engage the public in more in-depth exploration of the policy issues at stake may contribute to a more informed policy development process. The media can be an effective channel for those stakeholders with a weaker voice in policy deliberations to raise public attention to particular issues; however, the political and institutional context must be taken into account as it may outweigh media framing effects.
Mental health is neglected in most parts of the world. For the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America, the plight is even more severe as there are no specific mental health services designed for them altogether. Given the high importance of mental health for general health, the status quo is unacceptable. Lack of research on the subject of Indigenous Peoples' mental health means that statistics are virtually unavailable. To illustrate their mental health status, one can nonetheless point to the high rates of poverty and extreme poverty in their communities, overcrowded housing, illiteracy, and lack of basic sanitary services such as water, electricity and sewage. At the dawn of the XXI century, they remain poor, powerless, and voiceless. They remain severely excluded from mainstream society despite being the first inhabitants of this continent and being an estimated of 48 million people. This paper comments, specifically, on the limited impact of the Pan American Health Organization's mental health initiative on the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America.
The Pan American Health Organization's sponsored workshop "Programas y Servicios de Salud Mental en Communidades Indígenas" [Mental Health Programs and Services for the Indigenous Communities] in the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia on July16 - 18, 1998, appeared promising. However, eleven years later, no specific mental health program has been designed nor developed for the Indigenous Peoples in Latin America. This paper makes four specific recommendations for improvements in the approach of the Pan American Health Organization: (1) focus activities on what can be done; (2) build partnerships with the Indigenous Peoples; (3) consider traditional healers as essential partners in any mental health effort; and (4) conduct basic research on the mental health status of the Indigenous Peoples prior to the programming of any mental health service.
The persistent neglect of the Indigenous Peoples' mental health in Latin America raises serious concerns of moral and human rights violations. Since the Pan American Health Organization' Health of the Indigenous Peoples Initiative 16 years ago, no mental health service designed for them has yet been created.
The need to scale up treatment for HIV/AIDS has led to a revival in community health workers to help alleviate the health human resource crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Community health workers have been employed in Mozambique since the 1970s, performing disparate and fragmented activities, with mixed results.
A participant-observer description of the evolution of community health worker support to the health services in Angónia district, Mozambique.
An integrated community health team approach, established jointly by the Ministry of Health and Médecins Sans Frontières in 2007, has improved accountability, relevance, and geographical access for basic health services.
The community health team has several advantages over 'disease-specific' community health worker approaches in terms of accountability, acceptability, and expanded access to care.
In a recently published article, it was suggested that governance was the significant structural factor affecting the epidemiology of HIV. This suggestion was made notwithstanding the observed weak correlation between governance and HIV prevalence (r = .2). Unfortunately, the paper raised but left unexamined the potentially more important questions about the relationship between the broader health of populations and structural factors such as the national economy and physical infrastructure.
Utilizing substantially the same data sources as the original article, the relationship between population health (healthy life expectancy) and three structural factors (access to improved water, GDP per capita, and governance) were examined in each of 176 countries.
Governance was found to be significantly correlated with population health, as were GDP per capita, and access to improved water. They were also found to be significantly correlated with each other.
The findings are discussed with reference to the growing interest in structural factors as an explanation for population health outcomes, and the relatively weak relationship between governance and HIV prevalence.