The role of NGOs in global health security: A conversation with Tausi Suedi

By Nick Alexopulos

  Tausi Suedi, CEO and executive director of Childbirth Survival International (photo by Larry Canner)

Tausi Suedi, CEO and executive director of Childbirth Survival International (photo by Larry Canner)

On July 30, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security convened more than 60 experts to gather input and recommendations for the forthcoming U.S. Global Health Security Strategy, a document that will codify U.S. support for the Global Health Security Agenda. Among the many discussion topics—disease surveillance, laboratory diagnostics, workforce development, emergency management, antimicrobial resistance, and more—was the role nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play in overall global health security, and how to ensure those organizations are meaningfully included in an interagency U.S. strategy.

Tausi Suedi, MPH, championed this cause in her questions and comments throughout the meeting. She is the CEO and executive director of Childbirth Survival International, a grassroots nonprofit advocating for maternal and newborn health in the Sub-Saharan African countries of Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, and Somalia. Suedi is also an adjunct professor of global health at Towson University. 

After the Center’s event, the Bifurcated Needle spoke with Suedi about NGOs’ contributions to the GHSA: 

What major point did you communicate to the group, and what key message were you hoping to hear from your fellow experts and panelists?

The Global Health Security Agenda requires partnership and collaboration, especially with grassroots nonprofits that are actually implementing some of these packages. When you look at our nonprofit, Childbirth Survival International, we particularly focus on some of those action packages. For example, workforce development, immunizations, and making sure healthcare workers on the front lines are being trained to quickly recognize irregularities and act quickly if they identify a threat. 

What I was hoping to hear and what I think I did hear was the U.S. government’s commitment to continue engaging with [low resource] countries in order to strengthen their healthcare systems. As we all know, many systems are still inadequate, especially as you move from the urban to the rural areas—and so a lot more effort is needed. And that needs to be a concerted effort. Of course the U.S. government is a major player in this and very well recognized in its role, and what I heard from experts in the room is that the United States is on track to continue making those changes in the world.

How does the GHSA benefit from the work of NGOs?

We bring extraordinary value because we’re at the grassroots. If you look at the GHSA, how it’s structured, a vital component of its mission is to actually respond to a threat. It’s there, waiting; if something happens, let’s go. But the NGOs, we’re already on the ground working every single day, building the health systems, training the healthcare workers, educating the communities, getting families to immunize their kids, and working on other factors to prevent disease. We’re doing this work constantly, and like GHSA we’re responding to an emergency at the particular moment when it happens.

Your organization works in five Sub-Saharan African countries. What does the GHSA mean for them?

They will benefit tremendously from GHSA efforts to strengthen their healthcare systems, which still rely a lot on donor funding and international NGOs. With this collaboration of the U.S. government and international NGOs working together on this GHSA package, you’re bound to find countries improving with strengthened healthcare systems. 

Now, some countries are part of GHSA and others are not. Somalia, for instance, is one of those fragile countries, and one of the countries my organization serves. For it to be part of this GHSA consortium, a lot more work is needed to build its healthcare system and health infrastructure.

Final thought?

As an American, as an African, as a woman leader, I think we’re doing great work to improve health around the world. But I think we should not lose sight of what makes this happen: focusing at the grassroots level, the community level, where there is the most hurt.

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A summary meeting report is forthcoming and will be available on the Center's website.