Global Webinar: The Global Fund, Universal Health Coverage and Stronger Health Systems

The Global Fund’s Unique Contribution to Universal Health Coverage and Stronger Health Systems: Community Health Workers are Critical, Webinar Panelists Say

Community health workers are essential to achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC), panelists said during a webinar Friends convened for UHC Day on Tuesday, December 12.

Both Mustapha Bittaye, director of health services at the Ministry of Health in The Gambia, and Dr. Sabeen Afzal, deputy director of programs/health systems at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination in Pakistan, spoke of strong cadres of female community health workers who had been trained with support from the Global Fund. The community health workers are trained to test and treat HIV, TB and malaria, but sometimes provide other basic care as well.

“The Global Fund has paved the way,” said Dr. Afzal, noting that the Global Fund has also supported primary health care programming, staff training, medication and screening equipment in Pakistan. “Together we can work very well to improving universal health care services.”

Maurine Murenga, an HIV and TB advocate from Kenya who sits on the Friends board, spoke about her own experience being diagnosed with HIV in the early 2000s, before most people had access to treatment.

“The hospitals were unable to manage the numbers,” she said. “If you became sicker, your family and friends would be called to take care of you at home. We watched people die, sometimes with dignity, sometimes not. Through that process, groups that provided palliative care were converted to community health workers.”

The investments the Global Fund has made in community health workers and health systems have made a big difference, Murenga said.

“When health systems are stronger, decisions are fewer. Hospitals are not as jammed,” she continued. “Communities are more resilient and able deliver health services at a community level.”

Shunsuke Mabuchi, head of resilient and sustainable systems for health (RSSH) and pandemic preparedness and response at The Global Fund, said that the partnership had invested $1.5 billion per year in health systems during the previous funding cycle and was preparing to increase that to $2 billion per year over the next three years. “This is an unprecedented scale-up,” he said.

Robert Hecht, president of Pharos Global Health Advisors, noted that the Global Fund’s investments in health systems now extend to medical oxygen. Those investments began during COVID-19, when oxygen was much needed and scarce, but have continued even as the pandemic has ebbed. Hospitals now have medical oxygen for patients dealing with a variety of illnesses, including pneumonia. These investments “benefit everyone” said Bittaye of the Ministry of Health in The Gambia.

All the panelists agreed that the Global Fund plays a crucial role in achieving UHC.

Sarah Boulton, of the Department for International Development (DFID) in the United Kingdom, said that “as we look back on learnings from COVID-19, strong and resilience health systems are critical. The Global Fund is one of biggest multilateral health actors.” Max Seunik, Chief of Staff at Zenysis Technologies, said that his company focuses on health information systems and has partnered with the Global Fund on various projects, including one in Rwanda that “brings data analytics to the community level for first time.”

“The Global Fund is critical in shaping markets,” Seunik said, adding that he wanted to see a future where “where UHC is a reality for everyone.”

To learn more, read Friends’ new report on UHC:  The Global Fund’s Unique Contribution to Universal Health Coverage and Stronger Health Systems