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In Praise of Simplicity

Sometimes we take for granted the elegant solution, and lose sight of the fact that in a world where as many as two billion people do not have the basic health care they need, something needn’t be complicated in order to have an enormous impact. For example:

  • To prevent the spread of infections among newborns and their mothers in rural Armenia, IntraHealth and partners supply women’s health centers with kits comprised of basic equipment such as disposable exam gloves, a mask, an alcohol swab, an umbilical cord clamp, and a clean sheet. Despite longstanding debate regarding the effectiveness of safe birthing kits, a recent systematic review highlights studies noting that clean birthing practices—such as those promoted by the distribution of the kits in Armenia—can prevent newborn deaths and infections, including tetanus.
  • Another IntraHealth program distributes inexpensive mosquito nets to women and children in Senegal, to safeguard them from malaria infections—the leading cause of death among young children in Africa—as they sleep. A $10 bed net treated with insecticide can reduce malaria transmission by 50%, and up to a 90%in areas where nets are widely used. 
  • The IntraHealth-led Capacity Kenya program paints and installs signs in villages to advertise the health facility’s location and hours of operation, and helps to improve the facility itself by building cabinets inside, painting interior and exterior walls, and landscaping the grounds. These low-cost, non-medical interventions and improvements can make a health facility more accessible to patients, encourage staff commitment and pride, and assist in the provision of high-quality services.

Sometimes, even the more technical aspects of a program’s work can be beautifully simple. For instance, the Uganda Capacity Program created an innovative, straightforward solution to solve problems in the interviewing and hiring system for health workers. Previous to the reform, many positions remained vacant for months—leaving people without health care—because the hiring process was too time-consuming. For every open position, hiring managers received hundreds of applications, but the majority of applicants lacked the necessary qualifications. Rather than spending weeks weeding through the flood of applications, the project staff created an e-shortlist program that generates a list of the most qualified prospects. This limits the time involved in the hiring process and puts more health workers where they are most needed, in clinics offering care.

As we move forward and continue to implement programs that contribute to improved health for all, let us not forget the simple truth that the simple things can help save lives.