Nurse listening to patient in Jinja, Uganda

ReLAB-HS welcome the launch of USAID’s anticipated “Vision for Health Systems Strengthening 2030” at a webinar event on March 30 2021. Lynda Keeru, Hayley Stewart and Kate Hawkins give us the low down on what happened and how it fits with the work of ReLAB-HS.

The launch centered around a conversation with public health leaders about how communities, local governments, the private sector, and health organizations can work collaboratively to make health systems more resilient, and ReLAB-HS’s goal to strengthen health systems to aid in the delivery of rehabilitation services sits at the heart of much of this work.

In his introduction, Nikolaj Gilbert said:

“USAID, PATH and other partners shared a common goal of seeing more equitable, resilient health systems around the world. This goal has become more urgent than ever with the events of the past year. Prior to COVID-19, there was already a growing commitment to strengthening health systems especially primary health care systems and it is now more important than ever that we accelerate those efforts together.  COVID-19 has brought out gaps and weaknesses in health care systems around the world. We must leverage on the existing momentum around the world on the attention on health care and health systems’ strengthening to ultimately build stronger and more resilient global and national health systems. Therefore, the launch of USAID’s vision for health systems could not be more timely.”

Not only has COVID-19 increased awareness about the importance of ensuring our health systems are resilient, but also offer a unique opportunity to ensure that rehabilitation is considered pivotal to a comprehensive health service, particularly in the light of the challenges faced by those now living with what is being called ‘long COVID’.

There is a growing and increased recognition for the importance of investing in health systems with a new appreciation for issues like primary health care which is characterized by the patients’ outcomes improving and health care costs decreasing.

Those in health care inherently appreciate that the strength of the health system underpins the sustainability of all other health investments. A lot has been learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic including how essential, functional, funded, effective and efficient health systems are in preventing, detecting and responding to such crisis.

The USAID 2030 vision

The vision set out by USAID shifts from a more traditional emphasis on inputs to a new focus on outcomes. The health emergencies of the past two decades along with the increasingly complex environments where USAID deliver development assistance, has made it evident that to be effective and to produce sustainable results, there has to be a clear understanding of what outcomes are being worked towards and what defines a strong health system.

In their vision, USAID defines the outcomes as equity, quality and resource optimization. USAID believes that focusing united efforts on achieving these goals will help design programs that produce health systems that are sustainable, including during times of uncertainty and transitions. USAID’s focus on rehabilitation through ReLAB-HS particularly addresses the importance of equity – allowing those with access to the necessary services to live more independent and fulfilled lives. While the creation of training platforms, telerehabilitation services and a leadership academy means that knowledge resources can be shared more easily and to greater numbers.

USAID’s vision also emphasizes a whole of society approach which recognizes the role of community, civil society, private sector and their linkage to and partnership with the public sector, as well as It also acknowledging that local actors need to be empowered to be change agents within their health systems.

To achieve this vision, all efforts must be focused on targeting the vulnerable and underserved populations. Stakeholders must invest in ensuring that health care is effective, safe and as people-centered as possible. Countries must be helped to align their financing, workforce and supplied towards underserved populations and priority care.

ReLAB-HS has been designed to help ensure that rehabilitation services reach the vulnerable and underserved – often those with disabilities and long-term conditions or non-communicable diseases. As such we were delighted to see USAID’s commitment to this area of work within the strategy:

“Aging populations, prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCD), and conflict-induced injuries place a heavy burden on health systems around the globe with an ever-increasing need for rehabilitation services. The Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation’s (DDI) Hub for Inclusion has partnered with the Office of Health Systems to strengthen and integrate rehabilitation services in post-conflict countries. Through this partnership, USAID is developing strategic and technical guidance to sustainably finance and integrate rehabilitation services into country UHC planning.”

We here at ReLAB-HS welcome this new and ambitious vision from USAID, and are proud to be involved in this pivotal work to strengthen health systems in countries across the globe through improving access to rehabilitation and assistive devices.

Image credit: “Nurse listening to patient in Jinja, Uganda” by Bread for the World is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0