There is an unspoken need worldwide for something essential – health care providers.

We hear regularly about the need for health care that is accessible both regionally and financially, but what exactly does it mean to need health care providers?

A lack of providers results in a lack of health care. This could be everything from access to life-saving vaccines, to maternal and newborn support – and developing countries are hit the hardest. The shortage of health care providers is set to reach 18 million by 2030.

Health care providers are doctors, nurses, dentists and more. They are the people who check your temperature and take your blood, but also who deliver your children and perform your surgeries. In developing countries, you don’t find them just in hospitals – they’re also in mobile clinics and small village offices or travelling for home visits. They are utterly integral to maintaining public health.

By increasing their numbers, we open a pathway to endless possibilities for the future of health care. It could help curb the spread of Ebola, now declared a global health emergency of international concern in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It could halt polio’s recent comeback in its tracks and prevent more children from suffering from paralysis or death. It could reduce the number of newborn deaths, currently listed at 2.6 million each year.

Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) is an international nonprofit that sees the potential and is working to bridge this gap. A Global Impact partner for the last 26 years, their programs improve the availability and quality of health care through education, training and professional development for the health workforce in countries where these resources are scarce.

For 30 years and counting, they’ve brought health care and health care providers to communities in need, particularly at the local level – and they use partnership to do it.

Mission 2030: Partnership & ensuring healthy lives for all

Dental students practicing exam skills

In 2015, the United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its core framework – the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals. This agenda recognizes that the world’s problems are interconnected and can’t be solved without cross-sector collaboration – that means corporations, nonprofits, local governments and more working together for a common goal.

SDG #17, “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development,” is an integral part of the 2030 agenda. Partnership serves as a solid foundation on which a charity or corporation can build an effective and impactful strategy to achieve the other Global Goals.

HVO puts this strategy into practice. Their unique model focuses on SDG #3, “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” with an emphasis on universal health care (SDG #3.8), in conjunction with SDG #17. Thus, with partners across sectors and regions, they strive to bring accessible and, ultimately, universal health care through trained professionals to everyone, everywhere.

HVO’s partnerships bring together a wide range of people from different walks of life, and each bring something different, yet invaluable, to the collaborative. Their partnership with Global Impact, for example, is strategic – it has helped HVO build their social impact and develop their fundraising model and best practices.

“Through our partnership with Global Impact… we have… gained access to information and resources that have allowed us to improve our partnership model,” HVO said about the partnership. “Now as we reflect on the successes and lessons learned, Global Impact has helped facilitate our sharing that information and resources with others, encouraging best practices in the field that benefit all of us.”

With partnership and collaboration at the core of HVO’s strategy to achieve global access to health care, they tackled challenges in approaching regions and sectors and came away with guidelines that can be used for both charities and corporations looking to use partnership to advance another Global Goal.

Collaborating across regions and sectors

“At each HVO project site – in every program area and every country where we work – people coming together leads to improvements in care.” – Health Volunteers Overseas

When asked about their partnership model, HVO responded: “After more than 30 years of experience, we have found that, as the World Health Organization describes, partnership is a ‘collaborative relationship between two or more parties based on trust, equality and mutual understanding for the achievement of a specific goal.’”

Graduation Day

HVO partners with health ministries and institutions, individual health workers and department administrators. They utilize health professionals as volunteers and program leaders, enabling them to bring their experience and expertise to the table. These experiences draw from a wide range of circumstances – including regional variations, access to supplies and more, making the information invaluable to training health care providers who are adaptable to different environments.

HVO’s work with the Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) in Siem Reap, Cambodia, is a good case study to examine for a look at their collective impact model. Their nurse anesthesia project at AHC began in 2004 and continued to evolve with the needs of the site. There were three main phases:

  1. Initial focus included improving quality of care by sharing skills and knowledge with staff that could help decrease anxiety of children prior to surgical procedures, and include families in postal stages of operative care.
  2. As the quality of anesthesia care advanced, the project evolved, and AHC worked with HVO volunteers to implement a curriculum for nurses to become nurse anesthetists.
  3. Focus shifted to improving the teaching abilities of these nurse anesthetists, giving them to tools and knowledge to expand the education opportunities for others throughout the region.

At first, HVO volunteers helped AHC staff develop teaching techniques by instructing students from the University of Pittsburg and Oregon Health Science University who visited AHC. Now, they teach providers in Cambodia and at AHC’s sister school, Lao Friends Hospital for Children in Laos, where trainees learn how to provide high quality anesthetics for patients in resource-scarce environments.

In 2017 alone, AHC provided over 1,400 anesthetics and has become a center for teaching nurse anesthetists to provide compassionate care. This year, the entire team of AHC anesthesia providers received the HVO Golden Apple in recognition of their extraordinary work and dedication to collaborative education.

Through commitment, hard work and collaboration, these providers have improved access to and the quality of anesthesia care throughout their region and ensured safe surgical care for children in Cambodia and Laos.

The 8 indicators of a successful partnership

HVO’s partnership equation is surprisingly simple. With decades of experience stemming from collaboration with more than 100 hospitals, universities and health institutions, HVO has developed eight indicators of a successful partnership – effectively a list of best practices for any current or future partnerships that anyone, no matter their sector, should keep in mind.

Mutual goal setting. Instill a sense of responsibility and help keep actions lined up with priorities by working together to develop and set your goals. This practice develops a sense of responsibility, which leads to the dedication necessary to make lasting change.

8 Indicators of a Successful Global Health Partnership

Honest and open communication. You’re all on the same team – show that you value the opinions and experiences of your partners and keep everyone on track by encouraging open and honest communication, including constructive feedback, without fear of negative responses. Regional variations in both culture and language make this indicator that much more important. Remember this: The sooner a challenge is brought up, the sooner a strategy can be imposed to navigate it.

Equity. Each partner will bring something different to the partnership, and all of those things are essential. Missing just one partner’s perspective can mean the end of a project, the improper execution of a solution or the inability to navigate a challenge. It’s important to ensure that everyone involved is at the table.

Mutual benefit. Ask yourself: What do partners get out of the collaboration? The biggest benefits can be seen at the trainee and volunteer level – changes in knowledge, skills, attitude, a deeper understanding of the work and a better ability to adapt to changes.

HVO documents these benefits in the project objectives and also follows up with surveys. Feedback from those involved in projects cited positive personal and professional impact, including broadened perspectives, cross-cultural competency, networking and more.

Active engagement. Each partner must be kept in the loop. This means they need to know about project activities and be part of the decision-making process, regardless of their overall role. Communicate to partners what their roles and expectations are, as well, so they know what they need to do at all times. These expectations should be drafted early on in the development stage and finalized in the Letter of Agreement.

Flexibility. All good partnerships require flexibility. Like the most effective programs, they need to be able to evolve over time and in response to change, such as health demographics, donor trends, local resources, leadership or the strategic mission or capacities of one or more partners.

Clearly defined leadership roles. Partnership relies on volunteers at all levels, including leadership. Create a defined set of roles and responsibilities for all involved. Each partner has something unique to contribute, so HVO defines responsibilities during the project design phase.

Local champion. A local champion will help keep the project going in the right direction, maintain momentum and evolve the partnership. These champions don’t have to have a leadership role with the project, but they need to have a talent and interest in using their own influence to go beyond the typical expectations. A good local champion will “motivate, inspire, negotiate, be resourceful and liaise with all parties to effectively and efficiently move the project forward” (HVO).

Keep in mind, however, that this isn’t a set of easy step-by-step instructions. You must really commit to and follow through with each one.

Through annual monitoring and evaluation of projects, HVO ensures that nothing falls through the cracks. The feedback and adaptation loops they’ve developed allow them to check in with partners, evaluate successes and failures, and adapt project goals and approaches to problems. This ensures that their strategies continue to evolve in reaction to landscapes that are ever changing due to outside factors, such as war, disease, climate and more.

Moving forward

In 2018, HVO had 101 active projects, with 411 volunteers who completed 449 assignments. During that time, they trained more than 3,000 health care providers.

Since inception, tens of thousands of lives have been transformed by HVO’s work. More than 11,500 assignments have been completed. A global community has been created that doesn’t operate individually, but that moves and works together toward a common goal.

HVO has made partnerships work to meet their goal of bringing accessible health care to all. Since their creation, they’ve used experience to mold their strategy so that they can effectively use each of their partners in ways that best harness their strengths. Their success is solid proof that partnerships are a huge driver in achieving the SDGs – and gives hope that if we all come together, we may be able to make sustainable change in our world.