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01.04.2021

6 Opportunities We Have To Advance Global Health in 2021

Last year exposed the gaps in global health, and now it’s time to reverse some of the losses. Here’s an overview of some of our greatest opportunities this year — and what Project HOPE is doing to address them.

By Emma Schwartz

The COVID-19 pandemic shook every element of society in 2020. And the costs of the crisis are steep: We lost years of progress in improving global health and eradicating disease.

Now, as the first vaccines are distributed and we inch toward a post-pandemic world, we have the chance to rebound from COVID-19, regain our footing, and recapture some of the losses of last year.

The challenges before us are considerable, but there are also huge opportunities. We can harness global cooperation and breakthrough technology solutions to tackle inequalities. We can — and must — address the climate crisis and better prepare for the next pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 has made global health a top priority, and we have the chance to build a more resilient world.

Here are six opportunities we have to advance global health in 2021.

1. Build pandemic resilience

group of people

The threat of a pandemic has loomed for years; that’s why we named it one of the biggest threats to global health before COVID-19 ever emerged.

But no one could have imagined the tragic toll it would take.

Another pandemic could hit at any minute, even as we continue to reckon with this one, and we must be better prepared when that day comes.

What does that look like? We learn from the hard lessons of COVID-19, like shortages of personal protective equipment, as well as the positive ones, like unprecedented vaccine development. We invest in local health care workers, ensuring nurses and doctors have what they need to protect themselves and save lives, and we harness global collaboration to work together to solve the crisis.

Read: COVID-19 Showed How Interconnected We Are. To Move Forward, We Must Embrace It.

Project HOPE is building resilience by working on local levels. In villages, towns, and cities around the world, we are making sure organizations and health workers are equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to respond when the next pandemic strikes — with or without outside help.

2. Reduce global inequality

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the breadth of social and economic inequalities that exist in global health. The world’s most marginalized communities had the highest mortality and infection rates, while those who were already living in conflict and crisis have been pushed deeper into poverty. In the U.S., communities of color have been some of the most vulnerable populations to COVID-19. In Navajo Nation, more than 1 in 10 people have contracted the virus.

Between countries as well as within them, access to health care is not equal. And the health equity gap is widening: Poorer communities and people of color are disproportionately affected by disaster and disease. Families living in poverty or at risk of it are more likely to be exposed to harmful products or unhealthy practices, and have a harder time accessing quality health care.

The disparities of the COVID-19 crisis have stirred new resolve to close the gaps. Increasing access to the internet and building digital skills are seen as key pathways to reducing inequalities.

Throughout our history, Project HOPE has focused on ensuring everyone has access to the health care they need to reach their full potential, including the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable communities — particularly women, children, and families living in rural areas with limited access to health services.

“When this pandemic has passed, we will have a choice. We can either go back to the way things were, or accept that we must do better. We can live in isolation, looking only after our own interests, or work together to solve these global problems.”

– Rabih Torbay

two men walking down a road

3. Address the climate crisis

The changing climate continues to pose alarming threats to global health. Extreme weather events, wildfires, and sea level rise all compounded the impacts of COVID-19 last year.

The health effects of climate change are becoming easier and easier to see. Every year, an estimated 7 million people die as a result of air pollution. Weather events are becoming more extreme year after year, jeopardizing food supplies and increasing the risks of malnutrition and infectious disease. Hunger, conflict, disaster, and disease are all fueled by climate change.

According to the World Health Organization, we can prevent nearly 25% of the global burden of disease by cultivating healthier environments. That’s because the same emissions that cause global warming are responsible for more than one-quarter of deaths from noncommunicable diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and lung cancer.

Learning from the challenges and lessons at the intersection of climate change and the COVID-19 crisis could improve efforts to reduce these emissions and prepare for future disasters.

The first lesson: We can’t afford to wait to take action. In addition to training health workers and supporting hospitals and clinics, Project HOPE works within communities to build resilience to the impacts of climate change. We also stand ready to respond when emergency strikes — from Honduras to Puerto Rico — and work closely with ministries of health and local organizations to ensure the most urgent needs are met.

4. Answer the demand for mental health support

The pandemic has shined a light on the magnitude of the mental health crisis and increased the demand for mental health services around the world. It’s estimated 31% of all telehealth visits in 2021 will be for mental health support.

Even before COVID-19 hit, mental health issues were the leading cause of ill health worldwide.

Read: The Global Mental Health Crisis: 10 Numbers to Note

A survey from the World Health Organization reveals the pandemic disrupted or halted access to mental health services in 93% of countries, underscoring the urgent need for a massive scale-up in investment in one of the most underfunded and neglected areas of public health.

It’s time to prioritize mental health. At Project HOPE, we are committed to ensuring everyone has access to the health care they need to reach their full potential — and mental health support is an integral part of that care. This year we’ll continue training frontline health workers on topics like stress, grief, and trauma and provide them with ways to protect their well-being.

“Climate change is at the root of many of our world’s greatest humanitarian crises. This includes wildfires, floods and droughts, which lead to food insecurity, famine and population displacement. […] With an overburdened health system, we must recognize that to address the crises, we must address the root causes.”

– Rabih Torbay

5. Use technology for good

Technology is revolutionizing the delivery of health care.

woman with stethoscope

We saw the power of technology in action throughout 2020 as digital services became a vital lifeline during lockdowns and social distancing restrictions. Telemedicine has enabled millions to access care from the safety of home and will only continue to gain popularity once the pandemic is over. Meanwhile, the use of virtual and augmented reality and the rise of artificial intelligence show promising potential for helping solve health crises and preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases.

Last year, Project HOPE partnered with academic institutions, corporations, foundations, and governments to deliver virtual trainings that allowed us to reach more than 83,000 health workers and frontline personnel in over 150 countries worldwide. Virtual trainings like these are fast, flexible, and powerful ways to train health workers, especially in hard to reach areas.

6. Invest in local health care workers

Health care workers are the heroes and heroines on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, and last year underlined the importance of investing in their success.

It was also a grim reminder of an indisputable truth: the world needs more of them.

The health worker shortage has been at the center of global health discussions for decades — and the pandemic put the workforce to the ultimate test. Widespread shortages of PPE like gloves and masks endangered the lives of hundreds of thousands of health care workers around the world. As of September 2020, 570,000 health workers had been infected with the virus, and over 2,500 had lost their lives.

Empowering health workers has always been at the front and center of our mission at Project HOPE. Every day, we work to train and equip health care workers around the world so they have the tools they need to treat those in their community. Last year, that included midwives in Indonesia, maternal wards in North Macedonia, and doctors on the Venezuela border.

In 2021, we will continue to train and equip local health care workers to fight the health battles in their communities, to respond in times of emergency, and to save lives across the globe.

Give with confidence.

Please make a compassionate gift today to help save lives around the world. Your support means more children and families can get the vital medicines and care they need now — and that health workers will have the training and support they need to save lives for years to come.

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