The ways of knowing of health professionals who work on the front lines are distinct because no one else is there every day. Yet they are typically absent from the global table, even though the significance of local knowledge and action is increasingly recognized. In the quest to achieve global health goals, what value should professionals within global health agencies ascribe to local experience? How do we cultivate a more inclusive and collaborative environment? And why should we bother?
A recent roundtable discussion, attended by technical officers and senior leaders, provided an occasion to present and explain how the Geneva Learning Foundation’s Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030) platform and network could be used to support “consultative engagement” between global and local leaders. This platform and network is reaching over 50,000 health professionals, helping them build connections with each other – defying boundaries of geography and health system levels – to transform learning into action.
One global observer expressed concern that all this learning, sharing, and action might be “a bunch of hot air”. This can, at best, be interpreted as doubt towards the value of lived experience, and, at worst, as a brutal dismissal of the will and commitment expressed by thousands of health professionals working, more often than not, in difficult circumstances.
How should we understand and respond to such skepticism?
Between March and September 2022, 10,000 health professionals working on the frontlines of immunization made a personal, moral commitment to making a difference in their communities, above and beyond their professional roles. Together, they decided to make their country’s commitment to IA2030 a personal and professional commitment – because they wanted to. This cannot be insignificant.
In the first year of our IA2030 programme, we observed remarkable gains from such peer learning in the confidence and self-esteem of participants. It has already led to a year of intense sharing of experience, leading to over one thousand health professions taking corrective actions to tackle the root causes of their local challenges, using their own local resources and capacities, and sharing challenges, successes, and lessons learned. Such higher-order learning in the affective domain has already been shown to support deepening competencies needed to tackle complex problems.
To overcome current immunization challenges, it may be useful to first recognize the value of diverse perspectives, acknowledging that each individual’s lived experience can provide unique insights and knowledge. Building meaningful, respectful connections to those on the frontlines creates new possibilities for how this can be combined with the world’s collective knowledge: the norms, standards, and other guidelines that global agencies produce. By doing so, we can create a more inclusive culture, ensuring not only that every voice is heard and valued, but that these voices combine to figure out the “how” of solving global health challenges that play out at the local level.
Moreover, we must avoid perpetuating self-fulfilling prophecies that could undermine the motivation and participation. Heat generated by the voices and collective commitment of thousands of local health workers mobilizing and learning together to take action will evaporate into thin air if the global community fails to listen, respond and support them. A less cynical, more inclusive approach might help us raise the upswell of support in favor of immunization. It is essential that we encourage active involvement and recognize the dedication of those who strive to make a difference in the communities they serve. By fostering a supportive environment when we sit at a global roundtable, we can help dispel skepticism and promote the engagement of health professionals at all levels.
Lastly, it is important to challenge any biases or preconceived notions that may hinder our ability to appreciate the knowledge held by others. As we continue to advocate for local action and recognize the significance of local actors, we must be mindful of potential biases that could inadvertently devalue the contributions of those we seek to support. By being aware of these biases, we can work towards a more equitable global health community where everyone’s knowledge and experience are valued.
Promoting inclusivity and collaboration in global health agencies is critical to achieving our shared objectives. By recognizing the value of local perspectives, challenging biases, and promoting active engagement, we can create a more supportive environment for health professionals around the world and ensure that their collective efforts are recognized and supported.
It is important to consider such rejection in the context of the growing emphasis on local action and the recognition of local actors within the global community. As we work towards a more inclusive and collaborative environment, we must ensure that we genuinely appreciate and support local efforts.