By Professor Richard Smith, Dean of the Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak killed over 11,000 people. It devastated communities, sparked global panic, and brought national health systems to a stand-still. The human and economic cost was enormous.
While there were pockets of success in tackling the outbreak, there’s strong consensus that a lack of leadership contributed to its spread. This was confirmed in an analysis of the global response to the epidemic by the Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Managing this and other disease outbreaks requires effective leadership skills across all levels of the health system and sectors of society – decision-making at a global level; diplomacy at regional and national levels; negotiation for the frontline coordination of care, and engagement within communities to stop transmission. In the case of Ebola, it could be argued that there was failure, to some degree, across the board.
The world woke up, the response to the Zika virus outbreak showed lessons had been learnt, but this issue is not confined to major disease outbreaks. There is an urgent need for strong, thoughtful, cross-sectoral leadership, from top to bottom, in health systems across the globe – a demand which the School aims to help meet.
Our recently launched Executive Global Health Leadership Programme will support health leaders to develop their skills, improving health and well-being for the populations they serve. During the 10-month Programme, global health leaders will share their expertise and experience, explaining how they overcame major challenges.
Experts will deliver workshops on self-leadership, regional leadership and operating on the global stage. Fellows will develop key skills including communicating with impact, global health diplomacy, negotiation and influencing with integrity. The Programme will generate a dedicated and highly-skilled network of health leaders with strong links to institutions such as the School and its many global partners.
One person can’t stop the next Ebola outbreak in its tracks or solve the obesity crisis. But they can develop and execute effective systems which give others the weapons with which to fight major health issues, from maximising support for ‘on the ground’ medical teams to boosting international research collaborations.
Strong global leaders are key to keeping us and future generations safe and healthy.