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Health Issues We’re Watching in 2024

As we turn the page on 2023 at Project HOPE, we remain resolute in our mission to build more resilient communities and a healthier, more equitable world. Here are six global health issues we’re following this year. 

By Emma Schwartz

Climate change, conflict, displacement, and disease are shocking countries worldwide, testing the strength and durability of health systems like never before.

In the face of these compounding crises, we’re continuing to show up on the frontlines and take steps forward in building more resilient communities and a healthier, more equitable world.

As we turn the page on 2023, we’re focusing on ways we can address these crises. As we embark on 2024, we’ll be empowering health workers, prioritizing locally led development, responding to disasters and conflict, addressing migrant health, protecting mental health, and saving the lives of mothers and babies.

We asked some of our team members to share their thoughts on where we stand with each of these issues and how we’re ready to respond.

A Global Shortage of Health Care Workers

Kavitha Nallathambi
Senior Advisor, Policy & Advocacy, Washington, D.C.

As the first and often only link to essential health services for millions, frontline health workers provide lifesaving care and treatment, especially in remote, rural, and conflict zones.

But we’re facing a major crisis. At least 55 countries do not have enough doctors and nurses to meet the World Health Organization (WHO)’s minimum staff ratios, which severely compromises health care quality and patient safety. The health workers we do have are often undertrained, underequipped, and underpaid — if they’re paid at all.

While the situation is improving in many countries, at the current rate, there will be a global shortage of 10 million health workers in 2030, which will disproportionately affect low- and lower-middle income countries. Meanwhile, we are deeply concerned about the attacks we’ve seen on health workers and health facilities in places like Ukraine, Gaza, and Sudan.

This year, we’re urging U.S. support for the passage of the Global Frontline Health Worker Resolution (H.Res.389), a resolution that acknowledges the essential contributions of frontline health workers to recovering progress, expanding global health gains, and advancing national security and global economic prosperity. Increased investment in health workers – including support for workforce recruitment, development, training, and retention – will be paramount to achieving global health security and health and well-being for all.

nurse showing new mother how to nurse newborn
The global health worker shortage would have profound impacts in contexts like the Colombia-Venezuela border, where migrant and refugee women face disproportionate health risks. Photo by Marie Arago for Project HOPE, 2022.

A Renewed Commitment to Locally Led Development

Rabih Torbay
President & CEO

We’ve seen firsthand how locally led development leads to lasting impact. Over the decades, we’ve formed partnerships with local organizations and equipped local health workers to ensure that they are ready to meet the needs of their communities because – ultimately – they are the experts in what solutions will work best for the people they serve.

Our focus at Project HOPE is to leave the communities in which we work stronger, better equipped, and more resilient so that they are positioned to better meet current and future needs. Locally led development is crucial for providing these communities with the tools they need to address these problems and to create inclusive, sustainable, and effective outcomes and while fueling economic growth. Local ownership and active community participation are cornerstones for the sustainability of any intervention.

In 2024, we’ll keep prioritizing this approach by continually improving and adapting our programs, processes, and internal systems; ensuring that core funding goes to local organizations; exploring new partnership models that increase the capacity and impact of local organizations; and strengthening the capacity of local organizations to encourage global funding. And, as always, we’ll continue to focus on hiring local staff in the communities where we work.

man and woman in purple shirts showing children how to color
Ukrainian refugee children in Moldova attend an art therapy class led by Project HOPE’s local partner, The Moldova Project. Local partners play a key role in building sustainable relief programs around the world that will transform their communities long-term. Photo by Marie Arago for Project HOPE, 2023.

A Protracted Conflict in Ethiopia

Asayehegn Tekeste
Director of Program Implementation, Ethiopia

Conflicts in Ethiopia’s Amhara and Oromia regions have intensified in the wake of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) in November 2022, which temporarily halted the conflict in Tigray. There are still a significant number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in these regions and beyond who lack access to lifesaving and life-sustaining support. This is exacerbated by the long suspension of food aid in the country due to the diversion of aid.

The damage to health infrastructure and lack of essential commodities significantly disrupted the delivery of basic health services to people in the conflict-affected areas, especially mothers, children, and the elderly. Outbreaks of cholera and measles have strained the capacity of the health system beyond its limits, and these outbreaks have persisted for over a year. This is compounded by increasing vulnerabilities for gender-based violence (GBV), and a lack of essential water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), nutrition, and social services. The effects of drought, flooding, locust invasion, and other natural disasters are also expected to increase without additional capacity and funding to adequately respond.

Project HOPE will continue to actively respond by supporting the health, nutrition, and protection of IDP returnees in West Ethiopia. We have also resumed our community HIV project to help service and health system recovery in Tigray, while we continue to mobilize emergency health packs with essential medicines to help mobile and primary health care facilities. However, these activities are far from adequate in the face of the large scale of needs.

back of man wearing Project HOPE vest as he looks over group of children
Years of conflict in Ethiopia have had a devastating impact on health systems and led to large numbers of internally displaced people that face serious threats to their health. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2022.

A Migrant Health Emergency in the U.S.

Anna Jackson
Program Officer, Washington, D.C.

In 2023, migration to the U.S.-Mexico border hit record numbers. Conflict, violence, economic and political instability, fear of persecution, and climate change have pushed people from around the globe to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. to seek a better and safer life.

During this journey, migrants often face extortion, kidnapping, violence, and sexual assault by criminal groups and local police. Some make the journey by walking for hundreds of miles across rough and unsafe terrain, and many go without much needed prescription medications, such as insulin, for days or weeks on end. They often arrive to the U.S. exhausted, hungry, sick, and traumatized.

Project HOPE is currently partnering with the Casa Alitas migrant shelter and the Southeastern Arizona Health Education Center (SEAHEC) in Tucson, Arizona, two organizations that provide compassionate and dignified support and health services to asylum seekers once they cross the border. Our team is supporting a community health worker and a medical advisor and engaging two medical volunteers to assist shelter guests. Coordinating care and providing health services to migrants at this stage of their journey is imperative because without these interventions, they are often forced to go without care or must utilize emergency services that are costly and frequently unnecessary.

While migration patterns are often unpredictable, Project HOPE’s domestic team is continuing to strengthen and build partnerships along the U.S.-Mexico border to support migrant health service providers and create linkages to care for medically underserved communities.

man wears mask and black shirt standing next to tree
Project HOPE is working along the U.S.-Mexico border to strengthen local capacity to provide essential health care to migrant communities. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2021.

The Tragic Impacts of Conflict on Mental Health

Roy Sayegh
Regional Program Manager, Romania

Mental health has become a vital topic of discussion and implementation for the global health community, recognized as an integral part of health and well-being that impacts us psychologically, emotionally, socially, and physically.

In Gaza and West Bank, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and other countries, we are witnessing the psychological consequences and distress of chronic war and mass displacement. We have also witnessed natural and man-made disasters, epidemics, pandemics and more humanitarian crises, all of which have long-term impacts on health and mental health outcomes. As a global community, we are moving in a positive direction in making mental health a core element of humanitarian and developmental health-based approaches, but there is more to be done.

In 2024, we must focus on four things. For starters, we must raise awareness on mental health to help reduce stigma, normalize mental health care as an extension of our physical health, and psycho-educate and provide a lexicon of terms and their proper use for service providers and the people they serve and support. We must streamline mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) activities across our humanitarian, developmental, and health-based programming. Additionally, we must support MHPSS service providers and health workers globally. And, lastly, we must introduce preventative and routine MHPSS activities to ensure people build an understanding of mental health, stress, and coping strategies, thus helping to reduce rates of distress and support people’s journeys toward growth and overall well-being.

a young boy on bike in front of rubble
A boy surveys the damage following an airstrike in Gaza. Photo by Motaz Al Aaraj for Project HOPE, 2023.

A Global Maternal and Neonatal Health Emergency

Rondi Anderson
Senior Technical Advisor — RMNC, Washington, D.C.

As a global community, we are not on track to meet the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) for maternal health. Globally, maternal mortality rates are stagnating, with some countries, including the U.S., seeing increases. The most vulnerable women and girls are those in fragile, remote, and poverty-stricken contexts. Although in general, maternal deaths are not predictable, the majority are preventable. And when a mother dies, her newborn is much less likely to survive the pregnancy; those that do are more likely to die in infancy. Even her older children face an increased risk of death. In addition to the risk of death, disrespectful and poor-quality maternity care is ubiquitous, particularly in low resource settings. Much of this poor care stems from weak health systems that lack an adequate number of skilled health workers and have shortages of equipment and supplies.

To meet the SDG objectives, we must prevent maternal death, ensure quality care, and create enabling environments that empower health workers, women, and their families and communities during pregnancy, birth, and post-partum.

In 2024, we will be expanding our efforts to build a stronger and more competent maternal health workforce. We will focus on supporting countries to adopt standardized policies, strategies, and guidelines around maternal care, while strengthening local health systems to address the needs. And when we respond to humanitarian crises, we will prioritize supporting maternal health services to ensure the health and dignity of women and girls, even in the most adverse of contexts.

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