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Where do you go when hit with a serious medical condition? “The hospital!” is an obvious answer for people in high income countries, but for people in low-income and emerging market economies, access to a proper hospital is often just a dream. Why are decent hospitals in the developing world so few and far between?  

This week I invite senior fellow Amanda Glassman  on the Wonkcast to discuss a new CGD Working Group  that is studying the problems that result in a lack of effective hospitals in low-income and emerging market countries.  

Why focus on hospitals now? While news from the front lines of Ebola  has made the entire world aware of the dearth of hospitals in the afflicted countries, Amanda notes that within the global health community the shortage of hospitals in the developing world was already a hot topic.

For years donors have focused their attention and resources on primary care and preventive services—the kinds of help that can be provided at low cost in a village or neighborhood clinic.

“We’ve pretty much picked that low-hanging fruit,” Amanda says. “Now we’re thinking about health systems in a more integral way… Not just the hospital buildings but the but structures and policies that are needed to make hospitals function efficiently, contributing to health.”

What can be done?

CGD’s Hospitals for Health Working Group’s newly released consultation draft  of its forthcoming report proposes a “Global Hospitals Collaborative," an entity that would  facilitate a network of individuals and institutions dedicated to fostering improved policymaking, investment, and management for emerging-market hospitals. Specific activities would include setting benchmarks, gathering and sharing data, analyzing the barriers to more and better hospitals—and finding solutions.

“There’s a need to establish some kind of baseline,” Amanda says. Those studying the problem lack the basic information needed find solutions to the problem, she adds.

“A global collaborative could recommend directions for data and analytics, possible reforms, and for learning one from the other,” she adds.

Wouldn’t the World Health Organization (WHO) be the proper home for such an entity?

Amanda thinks not. “Now more than ever the WHO needs to be focused on those global public goods of disease surveillance, control and prevention, as we see in the case of Ebola,” she says.

While she believe the WHO needs to be deeply involved, she also believes such a collaborative would benefit from the greater flexibility available in a less institutionalized setting.

Learn more about why hospitals may be the missing link in developing country health care and how the proposed collaborative could help. Tune into the  Wonkcast and read the report

My thanks to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast and for a first draft of this blog post.