Health partnerships: addressing the availability of health professionals globally

Globalization and Health recently started an article series on health partnerships and how these could be an effective response to the global health agenda. The series has published several articles so far and here to explain more about it is Emily Burn from the Tropical Health & Education Trust.

At the Tropical Health & Education Trust (THET) our mission is to work in partnership to support health workers across the world. We support health partnerships between institutions in the UK and their counterparts in low or lower-middle income countries (LMICs) with grants, technical support and as the hub for knowledge and resources on the health partnership approach to development.

For the last year we have been editing a thematic series on health partnerships, published in Globalization and Health: ‘Health partnerships: an effective response to the global health agenda’. The series sets out to explore the concept of international ‘twinning’ relationships between healthcare delivery or training institutions in high-income countries and counterparts in low or middle-income countries.

As the first collection of its kind, this series is a milestone for health partnerships, which shows how far we have come; it is the product of a movement that puts partnership at the heart of strengthening health systems.

Health workers: at the heart of health partnerships

A partnership between Southern Health NHS Trust in the UK and Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana, known as the Wessex Ghana Stroke Partnership, is illustrative of the work we support. In 2012 they began a two-year project to develop a multi-disciplinary approach to managing patients with stroke at Korle Bu hospital.

UK volunteers trained a multi-disciplinary team at Korle Bu in four key stroke care areas

UK volunteers trained a multi-disciplinary team at Korle Bu in four key stroke care areas; a cohort of trainers was created; and staff were trained to deliver information to families caring for stroke patients at home.

Their work fed into the development of a dedicated stroke unit which was funded by Korle Bu hospital and opened in January 2014. Today, this health partnership continues to build on its successes and experiences to deliver further training in essential stroke clinical skills, multi-disciplinary team working and leadership development at Korle Bu hospital.

Collaboration: the health partnership approach

The aim of any health partnership is to share knowledge and information, to train health workers, and to improve health services through an on-going collaborative relationship. This process of knowledge sharing and development can take many forms such as online mentorship, training courses, protocol development, and curricula development.

The approach to development is determined and implemented by the health partnership, is based on an assessment of the needs of the LMIC partner, and has equal engagement from both the UK and LMIC partners.

Such a diversity of health issues are addressed and diverse approaches taken, in response to the specific circumstances and opportunities that the partnership is presented with.

I am often struck by the flexibility of this model of development; such a diversity of health issues are addressed and diverse approaches taken, in response to the specific circumstances and opportunities that the partnership is presented with.

Mutual benefits

In 2010, long-time supporter of health partnerships, Lord Nigel Crisp published Turning the World Upside Down: the search for global health in the 21st Century in which he argues for ‘co-development’ and mutual learning rather than top-down ideas of international development and knowledge transfer.

Health partnerships are such a model of co-development, providing personal and professional development opportunities not only to the LMIC partner but to the UK participants too, as one NHS employee volunteering with the Wessex-Ghana partnership describes:

“…The team believe that the UK National Health Service, imperfect as it is, can offer guidance to those countries looking towards developing more equitable and comprehensive services, albeit within limited financial resources. We also believe that through liaising with health professionals in developing countries, we in the NHS can be reminded of the core values of healthcare in its broadest sense and reaffirm that many of the most effective health care interventions are still relatively inexpensive and within the grasp of most people in the world. Working with colleagues in Ghana offers a refreshing opportunity to share skills, to embrace a new culture, and to experience stroke care in a new setting.” NHS Volunteer, Wessex-Ghana Stroke Partnership

Partnerships such as Wessex-Ghana have rich evidence of the difference they make to people’s lives and how others can work effectively in partnership. I thought that I knew well who the audience is for this work but with the launch of THET’s thematic series in Globalization and Health, I have learnt that the health partnership movement is bigger in scale, and more diverse in character than I understood; it is a global movement and one that is engaged, curious, and eager to share their knowledge.


THET’s thematic series is on-going and accepting manuscripts until further notice. If you have a question about the series or would like to propose a paper, please contact Emily Burn on emilyburn@thet.org

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