Friday, 14 September 2012

Post-2015 Blog Week: 'Improving healthcare information is a matter of life and death' by Martin Carroll, BMA

Martin Carroll, Deputy Head of the International Department at the British Medical Association, highlights the importance of healthcare information in the post-2015 agenda. 

Clean, safe and available: three words which neatly sum up End Water Poverty’s vision. Clean water which does not carry life-threatening disease, safe sanitation which does not make water dirty, and both of these universally available. Earlier this year, a major step was made towards realising the vision.  UNICEF and WHO announced that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water had been achieved, well in advance of the 2015 deadline.

UNICEF claimed that the gains made demonstrated that MDG targets could be met with will, effort and funds. But it also acknowledged that the most difficult work lay ahead. 11% of the global population – 783 million people – are still without access to clean, safe drinking water and billions more have no sanitation facilities.

The post-2015 landscape offers the chance to develop a more inclusive and participative framework which can foster innovative and integrated approaches like those described in “Join Up, Scale Up”, a collection of case studies, published in 2011 by a group of six influential aid agencies, including EWP. The ‘interconnected’ nature of the MDGs has long been acknowledged: “Join up, Scale Up” showed how it could work in practice, with water, sanitation, nutrition, and education programs connecting and collaborating in a variety of combinations to achieve tangible results. The advantage of the integrated approach is that it can be adapted to suit a range of collaborations with other sectors and campaigns. Healthcare Information forAll by 2015 (HIFA2015) – of which End Water Poverty is already a member - is a prime example.

Like clean and safe water, the availability of relevant and reliable healthcare information is fundamental for health. Yet thousands of children, men and women die needlessly every day because their parent, caregiver or health professional did not know what to do or where to seek help.

Childhood diarrhoea, the biggest killer of children worldwide and frequently the result of unclean water and poor sanitation, is one area where ‘information poverty’ has a particularly significant impact. Evidence from India shows that 4 in 10 mothers believe that fluids should be withheld when their child develops diarrhoea, thereby tragically contributing to the risk of death of their own children; 1000 children are dying every day - in India alone - due to dehydration associated with diarrhoea. More than 90% of these lives could have been saved with basic life-saving interventions that are locally available but simply not provided due largely to lack of basic healthcare knowledge. HIFA2015 members report similar problems in Africa and other LMICs.

It is a typical example of a wider problem which HIFA2015 is addressing: healthcare providers’ information and learning needs are not being met. HIFA2015 is working to harness the experiential knowledge of its membership - 8000 individuals from 2000 organisations in 167 countries worldwide – to determine what those needs are, the barriers and drivers to meeting them and how to improve availability of relevant and reliable healthcare information in low- and middle-income countries. At the heart of the network is a group of solution-focused email forums in English, French and Portuguese, in collaboration with the BMA, WHO and many other health and development organisations. As I write this, a discussion is taking place on the main HIFA2015 forum about public understanding of the links between water and disease, and ways to promote and scale up effective solutions such as solar water disinfection, a simple procedure to disinfect drinking water, using UV-radiation to kill diarrhoea-generating pathogens. Join here:

The potential for HIFA2015 and End Water Poverty to integrate efforts and break the vicious cycle which claims the lives of thousands of children every day is clear. Success in meeting the challenges of the post-2015 world will depend upon the willingness of governments to provide political and financial support for powerful alliances like these.

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