CHA convenes ministry's first global health care summit

July 1, 2011

Ministry collaborations aim to deliver clean water in Guatemala, cut maternal and early childhood deaths in Peruvian communities


ATLANTA — When ministry members came together at the first CHA Global Health Summit last month, the power of partnerships and collaborations was a recurring lesson.

Government speakers at the two-day, post-assembly meeting gave the audience tips for pairing with their local public health and global aid agencies to respond to crises from radiation sickness to cholera. Ministry providers with in-country operations in the developing world invited others to join their initiatives. Speakers extolled the benefits of teaming with each other and with nongovernmental organizations that have established overseas services in order to focus and stretch resources where they can be the most effective in lessening human suffering.

Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, CHA's president and chief executive officer, credited members of the now-disbanded Catholic Consortium for International Health Care with "encouraging, pushing and nudging" CHA to deepen its commitment to global health. She said CHA's board and the health ministry's sponsors also have urged CHA to do as much as it can in global health. "We need to be about our brothers and sisters who have so much less than we do," she said.

With this widespread support, CHA created a staff position in global outreach — a post filled by Bruce Compton in April 2010. Compton joined CHA weeks after a cataclysmic earthquake struck Haiti. Having Compton in place as a knowledgeable point person allowed CHA and its members to move quickly and effectively to support the restoration of Catholic health care in Haiti, Sr. Carol said.

"Those were not nudges," Sr. Carol said of the coalition members' efforts to promote CHA as a convener of ministry expertise in global health, "those were inspirations of the Holy Spirit. I am absolutely convinced," she said.

She referenced a ministry campaign led by CHA Board Chairman Robert Stanek that raised $10.1 million in six weeks for Haiti. The pledges from Catholic health systems will support Catholic Relief Services in its work to rebuild Hospital St. Francis de Sales for the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince and strengthen the network of faith-based hospitals in Haiti. "They were extraordinarily willing to be generous provided there was oversight and the dollars would be used to help the poor in Haiti," Sr. Carol said.

Second to none
Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, head of the Caritas Internationalis delegation to the United Nations in Geneva, told the summit audience of about 75 ministry leaders that the Catholic Church is second to none in providing health care to the poor and vulnerable in developing nations. For example, the Vatican estimates that more than 25 percent of HIV/AIDS services worldwide are delivered under Catholic auspices, he said. The Caritas confederation of 165 Catholic relief and development organizations includes CRS and Catholic Charities USA.

Msgr. Vitillo said an HIV/AIDS partnership involving CRS and the Catholic Medical Mission Board could be a model for global efforts being promoted by CHA members. In 2004, those two agencies partnered with the Institute for Human Virology at the University of Maryland; the Futures Group, an international development agency; and Interchurch Medical Assistance to administer a five-year, $330 million grant from the U.S. government. The money paid for antiretroviral treatment for hundreds of thousands of people in nine countries. Now the consortium is transitioning its program management in HIV/AIDS to local agencies in those nations.

Msgr. Vitillo encouraged meeting attendees to advocate for HIV/AIDS resources because donor governments are beginning to cut back on their commitments to buy antiretroviral medicines for use in the developing world. "I'm being told in Africa that (only) one person in a family is being allowed to go on antiretroviral treatment. They will split the pill, and it will have absolutely no affect," he said.

Get ready
Experts in disaster response told the audience that the heat of a national or international disaster is not the time to start mapping out a complex response, nor is it the time to begin building relationships with other community health care providers. For the good of the community, that groundwork should be laid in advance, they said.

"You invest in preparedness, and you prepare for the worst," said panel presenter Rear Admiral Clare Helminiak. She is deputy director for medical surge in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office of preparedness and emergency operations and an assistant surgeon general.

"We know that preparedness and response is a public-private responsibility," she said. "The private sector can do a lot of things more quickly in a more flexible manner than the federal government can. The federal government has heavy lift capability, but we don't have that flexibility because of the federal system."

Dr. Christopher Howard is lead technical advisor for public health for the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. He called nongovernmental organizations such as CRS the "lifeblood" of global disaster response. "We know CRS, they are lean and mean, we know they can get in quickly and deliver services that will be appropriate to the local context. That is really key."

Howard said the international development agency pairs organizations that are inexperienced in disaster response, but eager to help in a crisis, with agencies that are in the field and know what resources are needed. He said it's best to support disaster relief with cash, but if companies want to send supplies and equipment, it is important to send only materials that are needed. "Transportation is very expensive in a disaster, and items you need to get in are getting displaced by items you don't need," such as broken ultrasounds and expired medicines.

William Canny, director of emergency operations for CRS, said his organization stores supplies and equipment at "hot spots" around the world, places where there is an increased likelihood of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes or other natural disasters. For example, CRS had prepositioned supplies in Haiti and began distributing relief products almost immediately after the 2010 earthquake.

Minting local experts
In a panel discussion on global health systems, three senior officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stressed the advantage of partnering with ministries of health in host nations to help countries build their own essential public health services along with the local expertise to combat disease.

That is part of the strategy being developed by St. Louis-based Ascension Health and San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West in their collaborative effort to improve water, sanitation and health in Guatemala. The initiative is in the ideation stage. Susan Nestor Levy from Ascension Health and Pamela Hearn from Catholic Healthcare West have met with representatives of 40 organizations in the Latin American nation already at work on clean water initiatives. Though they work on the same issues, many of those people had never met each other, Levy said.

There may be an opportunity for Ascension Health and Catholic Healthcare West to act as a catalyst or convener of resources in Guatemala — to create some infrastructure to bring together people working to eliminate waterborne disease, Levy said.

Levy is Ascension Health's chief advocacy officer and executive director of its Seton Institute, a philanthropy that supports the international ministry work of the system's sponsoring congregations. She said Guatemala was selected as a test site for a large project because there are 180 Daughters of Charity working with the poor in Guatemala.

Hearn is executive director of the Catholic Healthcare West Foundation for International Health. She said the foundation "jumped at the opportunity" to get involved with Ascension Health in Guatemala. "Collaboration is one of the core values of Catholic Healthcare West, and one of our sponsors' mandates with respect to global health is to not duplicate programs," Hearn said.

Another ministry collaborative, this one created in 2007 and led by Bon Secours Health System of Marriottsville, Md.; CHRISTUS Health of Irving, Texas; and the Catholic Medical Mission Board, is at work to reduce maternal and early childhood death and disease in three Peruvian communities.

Rich Statuto, Bon Secours president and chief executive, said that additional partners are needed to expand the program. "My primary purpose for the presentation is to ask some of you to join" the collaboration, he told the summit audience.

Statuto said he first visited Peru at the invitation of Sr. Patricia Eck, CBS, who chairs Bon Secours Ministries, the sponsor of the Bon Secours system. Quoting Sr. Eck, Statuto said: "The struggle for a more humane world is not an option, but an integral part of our mission."


Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.