Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Are There Real Best Buys in Global Health?

April 22, 2014

The Best Buys Issue of Impact magazineLast month, PSI released its latest quarterly issue of Impact magazine. In it, PSI and its issue partners Devex, Path, and Merck for Mothers, asked the probing question: What are the best buys in global health? While many may automatically think of key interventions that are both cost effective and save lives, the best buy in global health overall turns out to be health systems strengthening.

“PSI wanted to look at best buys in global health as a result of an issue we published last year on giving to global health,” said Marshall Stowell, Editor-in-Chief of Impact, the magazine of PSI. “There was a significant amount of discussion about where to give. We wanted to explore that topic in greater detail.”

In a survey conducted by Devex of over 1490 global health and development professionals, 63% of them agree that health systems strengthening within the next 5 – 10 years is the ultimate best buy. It makes perfect sense. Without a solid health system foundation key interventions, while proven to work, don’t have a 100% opportunity to save the most lives possible and create better health outcomes.

The issue of costs in global health is not new, but taking a different, all-inclusive approach to create a unique discussion around it is.

Upon the launch of the latest Impact Issue, PSI and its partners hosted a robust panel discussion at the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC to discuss the issue of best buys in global health more in-depth.  Not only was it a packed room of global health professionals and media, there was also a worldwide audience watching live via livestream.

“There was great interest in the issue and topic,” Stowell continued. “The hashtag we created, #bestbuys4gh, trended nationally, which told us it's a topic people care about, even outside the development community.  What we found particularly interesting is the acknowledgement that more than new technologies, it's service delivery innovation that's the provides the greatest bang for your buck.”

A key takeaway from the panel discussion was that best buys can be defined and evaluated differently for every organization or donor. For example, Karen Cavanaugh, Director of the Office of Health Systems, at USAID defined a best buy to her as, “the use of donor money that will maximize the stream of current and future healthy life years.”

President and CEO of PSI Karl Hoffmann discussed the importance of bringing in private sector support in order to accelerate the move towards better health systems and better health outcomes.

“I think the private sector has a lot to teach us,” Hoffmann said. “We ought to take more inspiration from the private sector because I believe it is a way to get at the most effective and cost-effective solutions.”

Ultimately, the cornerstone of any global health program is that more lives are saved. In fact, 73% percent of Devex survey respondents believe that to be true followed closely by respondents who believe community ownership is the foremost indicator of a success global health program.

But, it’s not just about saving lives, as Amanda Glassman, Director of Global Health Policy at the Center for Global Development said at the top of the Best Buys discussion. While saving lives is the endpoint, how do programs get there in a way that is most cost-effective and efficient? Devex respondents also said there must be a move towards greater research and development funding and that service delivery is the top priority for global health programs.

To read the latest issue of Impact, the magazine of PSI, visit

Disclosure: I was a guest of PSI for the Best Buys discussion held at the Center for Global Development.

blog comments powered by Disqus