WGHA's Impact on Health Equity
The Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA) is a group that aims to improve the health equity of the world’s poor by connecting organizations to Washington’s global health sector. WGHA’s impact on health equity happens through the creation of these connections through the development of strategic relationships, hosting assemblies and communicating effectively. In all, WGHA unites 14,000 employees and 268 Washington-based small businesses, nonprofits and research institutes, which contribute $9 billion to the state’s economy. Moreover, while the alliance works mostly behind-the-scenes as a convener, the organization also creates public opportunities for other groups to meet and discuss important issues ranging from women in the global health sector to antimicrobial resistance to global health educator workshops.

Creating WGHA

The alliance established in Seattle, WA after a recognition that Seattle had grown into a global health powerhouse. At the time, there was not a platform in existence to allow connection between those in the global health sector.

In 2008, WGHA’s founders reached out to entities like the Washington governor, leaders of global health organizations and the University of Washington with an idea. The founders pitched that the region should focus on advancing health on a global level through a connective platform.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, the current President of WGHA, Dena Morris, said that WGHA emphasizes this belief with the question of “How can we do more together?” Further, Morris said that the organization believes the diversity in the connections it makes will allow it to foster new ideas with speedy information delivery and higher creativity flow.

With that question and those beliefs in mind, six members eventually formed WGHA with the support of various organizations including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, PATH, University of Washington, Washington State University, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. From there, WGHA’s impact on health equity grew rapidly and the organization now has over 200 allies.

Past Successes

In 2012, WGHA, Puget Sound Regional Council and Life Science Washington created the Global Health Nexus, a public exhibit and student competition focused on educating the community on global health. Three-hundred volunteers from Seattle and surrounding areas came together to build a platform that enhanced the ability to collaborate and take action regarding global health issues.

During the Ebola crisis of 2015, WGHA assembled more than 50 leaders from NGOs, research institutes, the private sector and various governments. This massive effort allowed the sharing of vital information with the CDC’s Ebola response team.

In 2011, WGHA created the Washington Global Health fund, which received $1.2 million from the Washington state legislature. The goal of the fund was to harness new health technologies and create more medical focused jobs throughout the state.

WGHA Meetings and Events

WGHA had seven planned events for April 2020 alone. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, it has either postponed its events or chosen to host them virtually. Morris told The Borgen Project that she believes that it is more crucial than ever to continue to provide conventions in the face of the pandemic. Specifically, the organization is “working to identify the optimal virtual platforms” to support these events.

The Women in Global Health Seattle Q1 Meeting (WGH Seattle) is one of the March events that the organization has postponed. Morris specifically mentioned this event as apart of the Women in Global Health movement, which is a movement that aims to create a distinct path towards leadership positions for women in the global health sector. The Q1 Meeting will likely happen on June 11th as an open event to the public. “That’s open to the broader community, and the more diversity we have in that room, the better off we are,” Morris says.

WGH Seattle consists of professional women working in global health within the Seattle area. This organization recognizes that leadership in the global health sector would become more innovative if there was an increase in diversity and improved gender-balance. These efforts aim to achieve specific developmental goals. For example, 75 percent of the global health workforce includes women but only 25 percent of global health leadership consists of women, according to Morris. She also stated that “when women are a part of the policy-making process, [the world will] end up with better outcomes for health, and economy and education, so entire communities are better served.”

WGHA’s Projects

Another current project of WGHA is the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Global (STEM Global), which “prepares the next generation of global health researchers, practitioners and champions.” STEM Global attempts to build a bridge between students who typically receive underrepresentation in the STEM field. Additionally, the project aims to connect those underrepresented individuals to global health jobs. STEM Global and WGHA also assists educators to better understand global health careers and how students can effectively navigate the path to such careers.

Additionally, the Next Generation of Leaders in Africa is a remarkable initiative of WGHA. The program emerged in April 2019 when WGHA gathered 45 representatives from 26 of the allied organizations and discussed the need for specific improvements. The group conferred and agreed on two things: there is a need for an increase in African voices in the conversations and there is a need to create an infrastructure in which emerging leaders can succeed.

WGHA’s goals for this project are vast and specific, which provide precise measurement of achievements. One goal includes the implementation of training for doctoral researchers in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya to ensure control for local leaders over the specific diseases and ailments that affect communities. Other goals are to provide training to eye bank technicians and ophthalmic surgeons in Ethiopia to ensure local development of eye banks and conduction of eye transplants, and to develop vaccine production in South Africa to ensure that vaccines will reach the appropriate individuals with minimal financial burden and improvements in local infrastructure with supply chain expertise in Mozambique and labs in Kenya.

Morris shared that global health is not simply about people from developed nations providing a poverty-stricken country with temporary fixes. Improving the state of global health is about building a strong infrastructure to allow emerging health leaders to succeed in long-term development and improvements of public health. WGHA’s impact on health equity is profound and growing by consistently providing opportunities to communicate within the global health sector.

– Marlee Septak
Photo: Unsplash