Thursday, March 8, 2012

A network of partnerships to fight diseases

These past few weeks I have been engaged in meetings which seek to promote the significance of various large scale diseases. The Stop TB Partnership held a consultation with civil society at the World Health Organization at the end of September. We heard from a range of practitioners that this historically rampant disease is ravaging many parts of the world, especially Southern Africa. Those weakened by HIV are particularly prone.

The Minister of Health for South Africa confirmed the seriousness of the situation at an interfaith conference on religion and health care hosted by the Archbishop of Cape Town in early October. He offered the statistic that his country bears 17% of the entire world's TB cases. At any one time throughout the world there are 9 million suffering from TB. 2 million die each year. Increasing numbers of these cases involve strains that are drug resistant; a situation exacerbated as sufferers do not maintain their treatment after an initial flourish of improvement.

This week I met with Mark Lodge of the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research at his base in Oxford, UK,. He is looking for wider partnerships to address the growth in cancer prevalence in the developing world. The days have now passed when cancer can be considered a disease of the developed world. 60% of cases now arise from middle and low income countries, with 5 million deaths a year.

Later that same day I met with Ruth Wooldridge, a founder member of AHN who works with the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance. She and her husband Mike, a respected BBC documentary maker and journalist, have made a film about some of the cancer services and palliative care facilities in Kenya. It demonstrates how much can be done with limited resources. Ruth has written a handbook which gives practical advice about running a simple palliative care programme in the most basic circumstances.

Along with HIV, malaria, maternal and child health, respiratory and diarrheal diseases, TB and cancer deserve wider interest and support. Quoting competing mortality rates might seem crass, but this helps to convey a wider picture of the overall burden of disease. The global health community can only manage to give attention to a limited number of so-called vertical diseases at any one time. Anglicans who seek to promote health and provide clinical services face the diversity of disease at grass roots level. We have to manage as broad a range of services as possible; a challenging task when resources are few and clinical specialists are absent.

The opportunity to improve our capacity to meet this challenge lies in networking with those who are active in their specialist fields. I suspect many of the skills and a considerable amount of knowledge lies within our own network. Shared with one another, these capabilities can have a widespread impact. Along with partners in other networks and agencies we have the chance to build health systems that can roll back such a high burden of disease. The work goes on...

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