World Health Day: building sustainable solutions through education

by Ron Sconyers, Physicians for Peace
Monday, 7 April 2014 20:19 GMT

Physicians for Peace Walking Free Mission in Mindanao with Inner Wheel Club of Iligan, Philippines, July 27 2013. Photo credit: Physicians for Peace

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One doctor. One nurse. One physical therapist. Think how many people they can train and heal. That’s the power of education

Every year since 1950, World Health Day has been utilized to galvanize the world’s attention towards a particular global health issue of major importance that is often overlooked throughout the year. Today is no different as this World Health Day is devoted to vector-borne diseases. More than one billion people are infected and more than one million die from vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria every year. Yet many of these diseases can be prevented and treated. At Physicians for Peace, we envision a world where no one struggles with illness, disability or death due to the lack of quality local healthcare.  We are decisively committed to training local healthcare professionals in developing regions to serve quality care in their communities.

We believe education is an effective solution to some of the world’s most serious global health challenges and our model of work is based on this approach. Physicians for Peace mobilizes teams of committed healthcare providers who want to share knowledge and make a difference in the world. We work with local health professionals to fill critical training gaps in areas such as burn care, disabilities, and maternal and child which are often overlooked in the global health discussion. We are leaders in healthcare education, with a reputation for delivering thoughtful approaches to patient-centered care. In practice, that means we teach our colleagues how to care for all of a patient’s needs.

By leading with education, Physicians for Peace creates a path to better health for entire communities. One doctor. One nurse. One physical therapist. Think how many people they can train and heal. That’s the power of education. Rather than healing one person, we teach others to heal, so they in turn can heal many.

Our model has proven to be responsive, and adaptable to the complex environments in which we work. We use the power of teamwork to serve many and leverage resources wisely by building trusted relationships with health care professionals and partnerships with medical centers to promote the transfer of knowledge between health professionals, their peers and the community. Our ultimate goal is to help restore communities and to provide an impact that far extends standard clinical work. Rather than just visiting a community to execute one surgery, for example, our partnerships allow us to provide education and hands-on training and support. This means that once we leave, the community is better equipped to provide everyday quality healthcare.

In the Philippines, our “Walking Free” program educates and trains prosthetic, orthotic, and rehabilitation professionals. In numerous countries, we regularly convene burn care providers in central locations so that they can share knowledge and best practices with each other.  As their relationships with each other grow, that network of dedicated burn care professionals extends the impact of the training to touch more lives. A great example of this extending impact is Kharisma, a former nurse in training in the Philippines. She had a medical problem and went to a doctor who discovered she had cancer in her leg. Kharisma's leg was amputated from the hip down. At this point in her life, she thought she had no future with no likelihood of getting a job. Physicians for Peace happened to be there training physical therapists and prosthetists on how to help people like her have a productive life. I personally met her not long after her therapy and you wouldn't even know Kharisma was an amputee. Her outlook on life now was contagiously positive and enthusiastic.  She is now a successful medical transcriptionist.

We were able to make a difference in her life. These stories touch me because they show how people's lives are changed. Ours is a pay-it-forward attitude.   We train people to go out and train others and vice versa. Regardless of the country, religion, ethnicity or geopolitics, our goals are the same: self-sufficiency and better health. At a time when we are all focused on the global health challenges at hand it is important to remember that part of ensuring healthcare access means building the capacity of local health systems. We must create an environment where the skills our medical educators share are honed and passed along to others in the community. That is where we define the impact, and the opportunity to prevent so many unnecessary tragedies that take place every day.

Brig. Gen. Ron Sconyers is president and CEO of Physicians for Peace – an organization committed to training local healthcare professionals in developing regions to serve quality care in their communities