This post originally appeared in Politico.
People often ask me what the global health community can do to have more impact. The answer is easy: We could be more like Tsion Berhanu.
I met Berhanu the last time I visited Ethiopia. My colleagues and I drove to the end of the road, then kept going for 15 more minutes, until we reached the Wuye Gosee Community Health Post, a tiny, three-room, concrete structure with an outhouse.
Berhanu lived in one room and worked in the other two — caring for 1,500 people in her kebele. Women came to her for contraceptives. When they stopped using birth control and got pregnant, they came for pre-natal care. When their babies were born, she gave advice about proper nutrition. When children got a little older, she immunized them. When people were sick, she treated them if she could and referred them to the district hospital if it was serious. She also advised families on how to store clean water and build sanitary pit latrines.
This is how health care is experienced and addressed on the ground. The community of donors, agencies and NGOs dedicated to better health for the poorest— including our foundation— has access to many more resources than Berhanu. What we don’t always do is drive conversation and innovation that can reflect her experience and perspective.
Like Berhanu, we can combine our interventions in strategic ways to help families build the healthy and prosperous future they want. Each component of success builds on the next. A woman who can determine how many children she has is better able to provide them with adequate nutrition, which means they are better able to pay attention in school, which means they better able to find a good job and raise children who are better off than their parents were.
That’s why I am involved with the Call to Action of Child Survival, meeting this week. The U.S. Agency for International Development, UNICEF and the governments of Ethiopia and India are hosting this conference of 700 global health practitioners and policymakers.
This event accomplishes two important goals.
First, it builds on the historic momentum around child health. In the U.S., global health has long been a rare example of bipartisan cooperation. Administrations and Congresses of both parties have supported some of the most important programs in the world. Last year, for example, donor countries including the United States pledged $4.3 billion to GAVI, a group that helps poor countries buy vaccines. With this money, millions more children can start receiving the vaccines that children in rich countries do.
At the same time, many developing countries are fostering innovation. Ethiopia’s health extension program is reaching people in every corner of the country. India’s masterful polio program solved one of the biggest logistical challenges in global health and made the country polio-free.
Second, it frames the goal as broadly as it should be framed. This is not about making sure children sleep under bed nets. That’s an important conversation, but the discussion this week is about the larger goal: Helping children survive, families thrive and nations develop.
I always try to remember the big puzzle that the pieces fit into. I try to be clear that the objective is helping people get what they want most—health and prosperity for themselves and their children. This principle is also clear to Berhanu when she’s caring for some of the world’s most remote communities.
I am glad to see that it is now becoming clear to the global health community, too.
Melinda Gates is the co-founder and co-chairwoman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.