COVID-19 has caused us to reckon with the weaknesses of global health security, implications for the future of the United States’ global health engagement, and our role in addressing global health disparities.
The United States has been at the forefront of global health commitments, especially through investments in programs like the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). It has made notable progress when it comes to disease-specific initiatives like HIV. These investments have also helped improve health infrastructure in other countries. But we need to look beyond single-disease responses.
Go Further, a partnership between PEPFAR, the George W. Bush Institute, UNAIDS, and Merck to end AIDS and cervical cancer, offers critical lessons for how the United States can build on its investments to improve health security and move us all toward a fairer, healthier world.
Health and wellbeing are complex, and high-quality integrated care must be the future for global health. For example, women living with HIV are six times more likely to develop cervical cancer than women who are HIV-negative.
Go Further invests in partner countries to integrate and scale up cervical cancer services within existing platforms for HIV care and women’s health. Women receive screening and treatment for precancerous lesions, if necessary, on the same day they are accessing HIV or other services. This decreases the amount of time women have to spend in the clinic and increases efficient service delivery to better cater to women’s needs.
By integrating care, Go Further has screened 1.3 million women living with HIV for cervical cancer and has safely continued to deliver care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, when women are healthy, they reinvest in their families, communities, and nations. The WHO estimates that for every dollar invested in cervical cancer services, $3.20 will be returned to the economy, having a knock-on effect that we all benefit from.
Data is paramount to identifying gaps, correcting course, and building stronger programs. Go Further’s efforts have been monitored and improved based on data. Important to remember is that data is as much about stories as it is about numbers. Speaking to women or healthcare workers on the front lines adds context to numbers, centers the voices of the community, and highlights solutions to complex problems. Through data, Go Further has gained a better understanding of barriers women face related to screening and treatment and has used women’s and healthcare workers’ input to improve outcomes.
Focusing on data – quantitative and qualitative – will set a course for a fairer, healthier world as well as clarify where improvements in programs and global systems need to be made.
While the United States can lead on expanding global health efforts, it cannot be responsible for tackling all necessary components of building a well-functioning healthcare system. Genuine partnerships with communities, governments, the private sector, multilaterals, and other stakeholders are needed.
By working with communities affected by HIV and cervical cancer and healthcare workers delivering the services, Go Further learns what types of messages and services are most appropriate for the women it seeks to serve and works with civil society and community groups to increase information about screening and decrease myths.
Go Further partner countries have been critical in developing a supportive policy environment for integration of cervical cancer into HIV and women’s care. The private sector and philanthropic donors can take risks that the United States government cannot. Partnerships have the potential to improve health outcomes and health security for all.
The United States should be honing in on its global health engagement. It’s not only the moral thing to do, but it’s imperative to the health security of our nation.
The good news is, efforts are already underway that offer a starting point to build on, and Go Further is one example.