Thinking Globally - Long-Term Ties Aid Population Health

May-June 2015


"You waste so much of our time, and people who say they are coming to help are often totally unprepared." This sums up what two African health care executives at the February 2015 African Christian Health Association Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, told me about short-term medical missions. Their comments were a reminder that U.S. health care, unfortunately, hasn't always partnered as holistically as it could to improve the long-term health of a community.

CHA recently had conducted research on short-term medical mission trips, and I was able to tell the executives that those who have traveled on short-term mission trips concede that their experiences often are more valuable to the travelers than to the in-country partners.

Our conversation was a good, two-way dialogue. By the end of the discussion, the three of us agreed that the work being done is well intentioned — but we also agreed that there is great opportunity for partnerships that truly strengthen a community's health access. Our conversation revealed a need for more dialogue and honest feedback, and several experts from Africa have agreed to weigh in during our next phase of study.

In this edition of Health Progress addressing new models of care in community settings, it seemed appropriate to highlight Providence Health & Services and its work in Chicamán, Guatemala. Providence's goal is to improve population health by investing in health care access for the local community through partnership with local nonprofit organizations and engaging Providence clinical and administrative staff in transformational international service.

The approach relies on establishing and maintaining relations in a single geographic region so that the relationships become long-term. The hope is that by getting to know the people in the region and coming to a mutual understanding of needs, Providence will avoid the pitfalls I heard about in Africa.

BRUCE COMPTON is senior director, international outreach, Catholic Health Association, St. Louis.


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