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Why humanitarian and academic organizations should be working together
6 minute read

Why humanitarian and academic organizations should be working together


Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, Chief of the SickKids Centre for Global Child Health, and Dr. Salim Sohani, Director of Global Health at the Canadian Red Cross, share how and why their organizations are working together to improve the lives of women, children, newborns and adolescents globally.

February 4 to 10, 2018 is International Development Week (IDW), an initiative led by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada that celebrates Canadian contributions to international development and engages and inspires Canadians, particularly youth, to learn more about global issues. The theme of the 28th annual IDW ‘Partners for a Better World’ highlights Canadians’ collective efforts to achieve sustainable development at home and around the world.

Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, Chief of the Centre for Global Child Health at SickKids, and Dr. Salim Sohani, Director of Global Health at the Canadian Red Cross (CRC), share how and why their organizations are working together to improve the lives of women, children, newborns and adolescents globally, with support from Global Affairs Canada.

1. What work is SickKids and Canadian Red Cross doing together?

Dr. Salim Sohani (SS): With funding support from Global Affairs Canada and Canadian Red Cross, the $19.2-million initiative on Improving Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) in Complex Humanitarian Contexts (April 2016 to March 2020) will help reduce death rates of mothers and children in the regions of Koulikoro and Sikasso in Mali. Activities include raising awareness of ways to prevent illness through proper hygiene and sanitation; training health workers in the delivery and promotion of an integrated package of MNCH services; and training health staff to collect, analyze and use MNCH data to monitor and improve quality of services. The initiative is implemented through a consortium led by the Canadian Red Cross Society in partnership with SickKids.

Dr. Stanley Zlotkin (SZ): SickKids Centre for Global Child Health, through our International Program Evaluation (IPE) Unit, is providing a lead technical role in developing the evaluation strategy for the program, assisting in developing the monitoring methodology and tools, and improving the Health Management Information System (HMIS). We will also design and conduct research related to improving the implementation of MNCH programs in complex humanitarian environments.

2. What are the benefits of this type of academic/humanitarian partnership?

SS: Being part of the larger Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, Canadian Red Cross is able to reach the most vulnerable segment of the population in hard to reach areas. Mali is one such context where CRC is reaching out to 1.7 million people with essential life-saving interventions. The partnership with a world renowned academic institution like SickKids, allows CRC to seek additional technical guidance to be able to deliver the highest quality of care. Such partnerships between academic and humanitarian institutions are win-win for all. These partnerships allow for the humanitarian institution to seek the highest quality of expertise, while the academic institution gets access to the field. By having field access, academic institutions are able to see first-hand the critical issues faced by implementation teams, therefore further complementing their important global health research. By working together, both institutions are able to enhance access to the highest quality of care for the most vulnerable communities that might not otherwise receive assistance.

SZ: Civil society and humanitarian organizations have the skill and expertise to strategically implement aid and development programs. Academic organizations like SickKids have expertise in program evaluation and research. I believe that these complementary skill sets will add huge value to Canada’s international development programs. Assessing impact through robust monitoring and evaluation is critical for international health programs, to ensure accountability for results, to measure what is working effectively and for mid-course improvements. As a leading Canadian academic health sciences centre, SickKids is well positioned to work with the CRC and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to achieve these goals.

3. Historically, global child health and international development have worked in silos, but there has been a shift in recent years. Can you tell us about this shift and why it is important?

SS: In recent years, the government has made a specific effort to increase transparency
by allocating resources to support the monitoring and evaluation of international development programs. This includes strengthening of systems, and disseminating timely and relevant data for planning and decision making. We are incorporating this into all of our programming, and with the help of academic partners like SickKids, are using the information gathered to gain new insights that drive action on the ground.

SZ: In 2012, a Consortium of international non-governmental organizations (CARE Canada, Plan International Canada Inc., Save the Children Canada, and World Vision Canada) partnered with SickKids with funding support from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). The NGOs independently implemented ten programs targeting maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) in seven countries, while we collated and analyzed the combined project data to determine the collective change in coverage of MNCH indicators from the beginning and end of the projects. These collective results told a bigger story than any of the individual summaries. This challenging but successful endeavor convinced me of the huge mutual value of collaborations between academic and development agencies in the area of implementation design, evaluation and focused research.

4. How do you see Canada and Canadian partners playing a leading role in global health?

SS: Partnerships between Global Affairs Canada and Canadian partner institutions, such as Canadian Red Cross and SickKids, create synergy to lead in the global health field. The Canadian governments’ emphasis on gender and diversity is an integral part of our programming, which aims to strengthen the lives of women and children around the world.

Our MNCH project in Mali, for example, addresses both the objectives of the gender and diversity; to advance women’s equal participation with men as decision makers, and to support women and girls in the realization of their full human rights. Enhancing access to the highest quality of lifesaving interventions through this partnership contributes towards Canadian efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.     

SZ: Canada’s focus on health equity and inclusion, as operationalized through its ‘Feminist International Assistance Policy’ (FIAP) can only be made stronger through increased Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding, strong central leadership and wide-ranging collaboration among the humanitarian-civil society agencies and Canada’s strong academic/research community. The partnership between the CRC and SickKids, with funding and support from Global Affairs Canada is I believe, an excellent model reflecting Canada’s current focus on alliance building and collective action to achieve equitable outcomes and impact.

Learn more about the work of the International Program Evaluation (IPE) Unit at the Centre for Global Child.

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