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October 13, 2015

Responding To: WHO Director-General Continues Georgetown's Conversation on Global Governance

Cross-sector Collaboration

Patrice Ndayisenga

Dr. Margaret Chan reminds us that global health governance demands the cooperation of everyone, especially policy-planners across sectors. As we know, healthcare systems alone cannot control diseases or ensure healthy populations; environmental protection, educational initiatives, and a range of other factors are key.

Cross-sector collaboration is particularly important during efforts to contain diseases, like Ebola, or enact preventative measures that can help countries respond more effectively to future outbreaks.

In her lecture, Dr. Chan called for more integrated healthcare systems in developing countries, which can help with these preparedness measures. First, citizens should be educated on their ability and responsibility to protect themselves from disease. Governments should put in place mechanisms to disseminate information to local populations about curbing contamination.

During the Ebola outbreak, certain villages succumbed to the disease in part because of ignorance and misconceptions about Ebola. Both formal and informal education programs could have helped to spread correct information and aid containment efforts. During the Ebola crisis, a lack of trust developed between healthcare workers and local populations. Education systems must create room to challenge certain cultural misconceptions, change mentalities, and pave ways for integral development that include scientific knowledge and facts about diseases.

Second, pharmaceutical research companies must be sensitive to the realities of the people in need of their drugs. With the emergence of the antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS, there have been heated debates about the inaccessibility of these life-saving drugs in poor countries, simply because their costs are far beyond the financial reach of their beneficiaries. As we prepare for future pandemics, we must explore the possibility of a partnership between the World Trade Organization and pharmaceutical research industries to make vaccines and medication more readably accessible.

In conclusion, the road ahead requires countries to educate their population, invest in their own healthcare systems and infrastructure, and a commitment to the culture of accountability especially with regards to proper use of funds and national budget allocutions. More broadly, international agencies should work to implement realistic policies regulating pricing for medicines in order to facilitate access to life-saving drugs in low-income communities which too often bear the worst burden of disease.

Patrice Ndayisenga is a Jesuit scholastic from Rwanda currently pursuing theology studies at Hekima College, a Jesuit school of theology based in Nairobi, Kenya. 

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