All posts by Richael S Walsh

Partners in Health Creating Systems for Years to Come

This will become very clear throughout this blog post, but I believe Partners In Health is a wonderful organization that has made a positive impact on the lives of millions of people across the world. Nongovernmental organizations, such as PIH, take responsibility for what many local governments either cannot or will not allocate time and money towards; the health of their nation. These organizations commit to a goal of improving the health of hundreds of thousands of people, with a genuine desire to help.

The focus of Partners in Health in the case of Rwanda was to develop a sustainable health system in a nation that desperately needed sanitary facilities to properly care for infectious diseases. This summer, I worked with the Uganda Village Project in rural Uganda to collect water and sanitation data, increase access to clean water sources and hygiene and sanitation workshops. During my time living and working with the villagers of Kasambiika, I learned that education was the most valuable tool we could offer them. For example, the team who lived and worked in Kasambiika the summer of 2014 built tippy taps, a hand-washing station made of household items, for the local primary school. However, less than a year later, the parts of these tippy taps were stolen or broken, and no one knew how to put them back together. This year we held a workshop to education the children and staff on how to build a tippy tap and the importance of sanitation. This enabled the community to repair or rebuild these structures if necessary.

In this line of work, nongovernmental organizations come out of nowhere to an established community and impose change. For the most part, good change. However, change, no matter how positive or negative it is, is sometimes hard to accept. At the end of it all, these organizations then pack up all their things and leave the community, wishing the best for them. What PIH does well in Rwanda is the educational program with Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. This partnership “helped the Rwanda MOH and academic institutions establish new or strengthen existing formal educational programs (conferring advanced degrees) and in-service training programs” (Cancedda) with local health workers. Training local community members presents new opportunities for individual and autonomy for the health of the community. This partnership lessens the dependence on the NGO in the long term and increases the overall health of the community, even after PIH leaves.

Again, this model of health work in nations with high rates of communicable diseases and other health burdens has contributed a lot of positive change in the world. That is not to say, however, that this is a flawless model. First, the level of dependency Partners in Health has on its donors is not sustainable or completely reliable. Further, the person or company that is donating the money will more or less have a say in where the funds are allocated. Speaking of sustainability, foreign NGOs, no matter now noble the cause, will always be foreign to the communities they are trying to help. This runs the risk of imposing foreign notions or practices without considering local cultures.




Discussion Questions:


What are some ways that nongovernmental organizations, such as Partners in Health, can find more stable, consistent funding and rely less on donations?


How could Partners in Health offer more sustainable interventions; further, what are some unforeseen consequences of their work?



  • Farmer, Infections and Inequalities, Ch. 8
  • Farmer et al textbook, Ch. 6
  • Cancedda, Corrado et al. 2014. “Enhancing Formal Educational and In-Service Training Programs in Rural Rwanda: A Partnership Among the Public Sector, a Nongovernmental Organization, and Academia” Academic Medicine 89(8): 1117-1124.

Fink, Sheri. 2015. “Pattern of Safety Lapses Where Group Worked to Battle Ebola Outbreak.” The New York Times April 12.