Ideas & Insights / All Perspectives / Ideas & Insights

Delivering on the Promise of “Health For All”


The following piece opens a month-long focus on health in the lead up to the 2018 World Health Assembly. 

Jacques Nkurunziza 7, plays at a waiting room in Rwinkwavu hospital in Rwanda, June 26, 2009. Photo by Antony Njuguna – Rockefeller Foundation (RWANDA)

Later this month, global health experts from all over the planet will travel to Geneva, as they have every spring for the last 70 years, for the World Health Organization’s annual World Health Assembly. This year, we can expect the momentum for achieving universal health coverage – backed by the rallying cry of “health for all” – to be stronger than ever.

At The Rockefeller Foundation, we’ve been proud to do our part in helping catalyze this global movement over the last decade. And as we’ve begun a new chapter in our century-old history of improving health for millions of people around the world, we’ve been asking ourselves, what’s next? How do we turn “health for all” from words into action, and ensure everyone on Earth has universal access to the care they need to live healthy and productive lives?

This is an imperative when you consider that for all the progress the world has made in recent decades – including cutting in half the rate of child mortality since 1990 – still almost 6 million children under the age of five will lose their lives this year, the vast majority of them in low-resource settings, either from a handful of relatively simple diseases or complications of being born in an environment where there isn’t a skilled attendant or appropriate supplies on hand. How can we help stop these completely unnecessary and preventable deaths?

The only way to make “health for all” a reality for everyone, everywhere is by focusing on community health & making it more integrated, and digitally-enabled.

It’s still early, but to us the initial answer is clear: the only way to make “health for all” a reality for everyone, everywhere is by focusing on community health – and in particular, making community health more integrated, and digitally-enabled. Our hypothesis is that connecting community health to primary health systems through digital tools and data platforms can amplify access to health and quality of care, which could help save the lives of millions of mothers and children each year. Over time, it could also enable communities to better manage the rapidly-growing burden of non-communicable diseases and help protect against pandemic threats.

We’ve already seen countries succeed in dramatically reducing maternal and child death by investing in community health. Ethiopia saw a 75 percent decline in both child and maternal mortality over a 25-year period, with reductions of 6 percent a year between 2005 and 2010. Meanwhile, Rwanda’s child mortality rate fell by 70 percent in just the last decade alone.

More than just lives saved, community health offers an incredibly high return on investment. The World Health Organization’s own research shows that every dollar invested in community health results in $7-10 in economic gains – because healthier people are more productive. As part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the international community has set a target of significantly reducing preventable child deaths by the year 2030, and we believe it’s possible to achieve that goal worldwide by bringing the latest breakthroughs in data analytics and digital platforms to the field of community health.

We know breakthroughs only matter when you put them into the hands of the people on the ground – in the villages, in the clinics, in the homes where the diseases start and the pandemics can spread. In a world where companies can use predictive analytics to try to sell us products before we really even know we want them, we should be able to use those types of data systems, tied into community health systems, to help identify where a disease might be most likely to spread, what places are at greatest risk, and who needs additional resources.

Dental hospital in northern Thailand, July 16, 2009. Photo Patrick de Noirmont/Asiaworks for the Rockefeller Foundation

Imagine a future where it will be possible for all governments – even in the world’s poorest places – to predict down to the household which person or child will get sick, so they can send a community health worker to intervene. If we can get that right, and, importantly, with proper privacy protections in place, the results for improving people’s health would be incredible.

This is what the world can and should be – a place where everyone, everywhere has the opportunity to live a healthy life. A place where communities in every corner of the world are empowered by the most cutting-edge advances in data analytics, science, and technology.

We know it’s going to take a lot of hard work and partnership to get there over the next decade, which is why we’re starting now. For example, while we continue to visit countries to help inform decisions about where we might choose to put our resources, one thing we already know is that collaboration will be essential to achieving the greatest possible impact. At The Rockefeller Foundation, we greatly value our relationships with in-country partners in the communities we serve; large global organizations like UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and also NGOs like Living Goods and BRAC. As we build a new initiative focused on community health, we look forward to holding hands with others to forge strategic partnerships that measurably improve people’s lives.

In the next few weeks, as the world’s leading global health policymakers and practitioners prepare to gather in Geneva, our blog will highlight some of our learnings and observations so far about community health’s potential to deliver on the promise of health for all.

Our teams will offer a first-look at some of the challenges and opportunities we’ve uncovered while developing a new community health strategy. They’ll share some of our early thinking about how to harness data and technology to save lives, especially those of mothers and children. And they’ll talk about innovative financial products that countries can use to help their communities be healthier – such as how a new kind of insurance can prevent a disease outbreak or epidemic from escalating into a global pandemic.

We’ve got an exciting month coming up, and this is only the beginning of our journey. I hope you’ll join us.

Leave a comment