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Why Strengthen the Health System?

Keeping people healthy and mortality low is a complicated task involving many different components: prevention, access to care, nutrition, maternal and child health, family, and so much more.

There are also many things outside of specific health areas that can impact health, including employment, education, housing, income, and many others.

One large thing that can impact individual and community health is the health system.

This theme came up frequently at IntraHealth International's annual SwitchPoint, recently held over two days in Saxapahaw, North Carolina. Touted as an “unconference,” SwitchPoint brings together people from all over the world to talk about health and development in creative and innovative ways.

We saw photos from the front lines of the Ebola crisis, poetry from IntraHealth’s Roy Jacobstein, dancers trying to ease the effects of Parkinson’s, and many other amazing ideas and interventions.

Strengthening the health system means it will be able to respond to any disease.

“We must learn to listen if we want to be heard.” Michael Bzdak, Director of Corporate Contributions at Johnson & Johnson, shared this poignant thought from a recent WHO report during a panel with K4Health’s partner and IntraHealth International’s Amanda Puckett, who presented on the coordination around the Ebola response. She touched on the importance of developing a better, more coordinated health system in the three main affected countries (Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone) and how this could be the difference between containment and widespread infection.

Throughout the conference, “We must learn to listen” reminded us of our mission and of the necessity of learning from those we are trying to help and soliciting their input to change and improve the health system.

IntraHealth International has been working with health workers to improve health systems since 1979, and SwitchPoint is a nod of acknowledgment to those doing that work for IntraHealth as well as other organizations.

So what’s so important about strengthening health systems and assisting health workers? It is the fundamental base for health care worldwide. Historically, international health has focused on single concerns such as HIV or malaria. This is helpful, but strengthening the health system means it will be able to respond to any disease.

I was inspired by the commitment and work that SwitchPoint’s attendees do every day in their organizations. I feel that the key to improved health is to refine and strengthen health systems. As organizations, if we work together and listen instead of just talking, I believe real change will happen in the world and lives will be saved.

To learn more, check out K4Health’s Family Planning Workforce Topics Page.This post originally appeared on the K4Health blog. Photo by David Nelson.

Check out highlights from SwitchPoint 2015 here.