Global health initiatives against specific diseases may do more harm than good

A study conducted in Mali found that global health initiatives in developing countries to control specific diseases can often work against public health by diverting much needed resources.

Global health initiatives often target single disease issues in low income countries in order to focus public health efforts and increase awareness. The study, conducted by the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine and published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, sought to examine the local impact these initiatives on two rural regions of Mali, according to EurekAlert.

The Antwerp team used the World Health Organization’s framework of analysis to look at six interrelated healthcare elements - health services delivery, the health workforce, health information systems, the drug procurement system, financing and governance.

The study found that single disease campaigns interfered significantly with routine healthcare delivery. Over the span of a year, the campaigns utilized a third of the work capacity of local healthcare providers, EurekAlert reports. For at least a quarter of the year, the workers were away from their respective health centers and not seeing patients.

The campaigns provided workers with bonuses, creating a major incentive for them to leave their regular work. During the campaign, rural healthcare providers often closed as the nurses who worked at them were often the only ones available for clinical consultations. During that time, children would often only receive the medicines supported by the campaign and other illnesses would be disregarded at campaign sites.

Out of 16 health centers involved with the study, only two were deemed able to integrate the campaigns into their regular duties. They were staffed with a more experienced and motivated workforce, according to EurekAlert.

The study concluded that only robust healthcare systems, which are rare in developing countries, are capable of meeting the needs of targeted and non-targeted health care together.