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Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in developing countries are chiefly a post-World War II phenomenon. Though they have made important contributions to health and development among impoverished people throughout the world, the documentation of these contributions has been limited. Even though BRAC and the Jamkhed Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) are but two of 9.7 million NGOs registered around the world, they are unique. Established in 1972 in Bangladesh, BRAC is now the largest NGO in the world in terms of population served—now reaching 130 million people in 11 different countries. Its programs are multi-sectoral but focus on empowering women and improving the health of mothers and children. Through its unique scheme of generating income through its own social enterprises, BRAC is able to cover 85% of its $1 billion budget from self-generated funds. This innovative approach to funding has enabled BRAC to grow and to sustain that growth as its social enterprises have also prospered. The Jamkhed CRHP, founded in 1970 and located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, is notable for its remarkable national and global influence. It is one of the world’s early examples of empowering communities to address their health problems and the social determinants of those problems, in part by training illiterate women to serve as community health workers. The Jamkhed CRHP served as a major influence on the vision of primary health care that emerged at the 1978 International Conference on Primary Health Care at Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan. Its Institute for Training and Research in Community Health and Population has provided on-site training in community health for 45,000 people from 100 different countries. The book written by the founders entitled Jamkhed: A Comprehensive Rural Health Project, describing its pioneering approach, has been translated into five languages beyond English and is one of the most widely read books on global health. These two exemplary NGOs provide a glimpse of the breadth and depth of NGO contributions to improving the health and well-being of impoverished people throughout the world.


David Sanders and Louis Reynolds

The global project to achieve Health for All through Primary Health Care (PHC) is a profoundly political one. In seeking to address both universal access to health care and the social determinants of health (SDH) it challenges power blocs which have material vested interests in technical approaches to health and development. The forces that have shaped PHC include Community Oriented Primary Care and the Health Centre Movement, the “basic health services approach,” and nongovernmental and national initiatives that exemplified comprehensive and participatory approaches to health development. The 1978 Alma-Ata Declaration codified these experiences and advocated Health for All by the year 2000 through PHC. It emphasized equitable and appropriate community and primary-level health care as well as intersectoral actions and community participation to address the social and environmental determinants of health. This would need the support of a new international economic order. The concept of “Selective Primary Health Care” emerged soon after Alma-Ata, privileging a limited set of technical interventions directed at selected groups, notably young children. This was soon operationalized as UNICEF’s Child Survival Revolution. The visionary and comprehensive policy of PHC was further eroded by the 1970s debt crisis and subsequent economic policies including structural adjustment and accelerated neoliberal globalization that deregulated markets and financial flows and reduced state expenditure on public services. This translated, in many countries, as “health sector reform” with a dominant focus on cost efficiency to the detriment of broad developmental approaches to health. More recently this selective approach has been aggravated by the financing of global health through public-private partnerships that fund specific interventions for selected diseases. They have also spawned many “service delivery” NGOs whose activities have often reinforced a biomedical emphasis, supported by large philanthropic funding such as that of the Gates Foundation. Educational institutions have largely failed to transform their curricula to incorporate the philosophy and application of PHC to inform the practice of students and graduates, perpetuating weakness in its implementation. Revitalizing PHC requires at least three key steps: improved equity in access to services, a strong focus on intersectoral action (ISA) to address SDH and prioritization of community-based approaches. The third sustainable development goal (SDGs) focuses on health, with universal health coverage (UHC) at its center. While UHC has the potential to enhance equitable access to comprehensive health care with financial protection, realizing this will require public financing based on social solidarity. Groups with vested interests such as private insurance schemes and corporate service providers have already organized against this approach in some countries. The SDGs also provide an opportunity to enhance ISA, since they include social and environmental goals that could also support the scaling up of Community Health Worker programs and enhanced community participation. However, SDG-8, which proposes high economic growth based substantially on an extractivist model, contradicts the goals for environmental sustainability. Human-induced environmental degradation, climate change, and global warming have emerged as a major threat to health. As presciently observed at Alma-Ata, the success of PHC, and Health for All requires the establishment of a new, ecologically sustainable, economic order.


Catherine A. O'Donnell

Migration is a reality of today’s world, with over one billion migrants worldwide. While many choose to move voluntarily, others are forced to migrate due to economic reasons or to flee war, conflict, or persecution. Such migrants often find themselves in precarious and marginalized situations—particularly asylum seekers, refugees, and undocumented or irregular migrants. While often viewed as a single group, the legal status and entitlements of these three groups are different. This has implications for their ability to access health care; in addition, rights and entitlements vary across the 28 countries of the European Union and across different parts of national health systems. The lack of entitlement to receive care, including primary and secondary care, is a significant barrier for many asylum seekers and refugees and an even greater barrier for undocumented migrants. Other barriers include different health profiles and awareness of chronic disease risk amongst migrants; awareness of the organization of health systems in host countries; and language and communication. The use of professional interpreters can help to overcome communication barriers, but entitlement to free interpreting services is highly variable. Host countries need to consider how to ensure their health systems are “migrant-friendly”: solutions include provision of professional interpreters; ensuring that health care staff are aware of migrants’ rights to access health care; and increasing knowledge of migrants in relation to the organization of the health care system in their host country and how to access care, for example through the use of patient navigators. However, perhaps one of the greatest facilitators for migrants will be a more favorable political situation, which stops demonizing people who are forced to migrate due to situations out of their control.