Partners In Health’s U.S. Public Health

Partners In Health’s U.S. Public Health Accompaniment Unit

PIH Is Supporting Pandemic Response Across the U.S.

Despite its vast clinical infrastructure, the United States’ struggle to respond to COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in the public health system, which are proving to be particularly devastating for vulnerable populations. For the past three decades, Partners In Health (PIH) has been at the forefront of global health interventions in the most resource-poor settings around the world, including widespread response to epidemics such as HIV, tuberculosis, cholera, and Ebola.

When the novel coronavirus pandemic swept the globe in early 2020, PIH was asked by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to mount an unprecedented contact tracing initiative to help local boards of health cope with the expected surge of positive cases of COVID-19, the resulting disease.

PIH recognized the opportunity to share its decades-long and unique expertise with many U.S. partners, who are desperately struggling to implement complex interventions such as contact tracing not only to flatten but to shrink the curve of the virus, help protect communities and health care workers, and return to normal life.

Learning Collaborative

The Learning Collaborative on Public Health Responses to COVID-19 is for public health leaders, front-line staff and their partners who are building the testing, contact tracing, and social support systems needed to stop the pandemic.

With a focus on the most vulnerable communities, our virtual community of practice shares technical resources, strategies, best practices, and more.

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Our Vision For the Future

Since its very beginning, PIH has brought the benefits of modern clinical expertise to the most resource-poor settings around the world. Over the years, PIH has built, in close partnership with local ministries of health, a vast and unique experience implementing nimble and effective public health interventions.

We have always known that such experience could be valuable to many other governments across the globe, including resource-rich nations like the U.S. The replication of those hard-earned lessons at the global level is the ultimate step in PIH’s theory of change, which is built on the integration of direct provision of care, rigorous research, and professional training.

We look at this program as the perfect opportunity to shift the paradigm of global public health towards an inclusive and equitable redistribution of health resources.

The U.S. Public Health Accompaniment Unit will engage U.S. government agencies, local jurisdictions, and their implementing partners with two interrelated components: 1) direct technical advisory services and 2) a Learning Collaborative featuring a Resource Library and Learning Series

Dozens of states and cities have requested PIH’s advisory services to strengthen contact tracing efforts as part of their public health response to the pandemic. As of August 2020, PIH has advising relationships with Newark, New Jersey; Illinois; Ohio; North Carolina; Immokalee, FL; Fulton County, Georgia; Pima County, Arizona; Montgomery, AL; Navajo Nation; and Toronto, Canada.

What type of technical advisory can partners expect to receive?  

The scope and intensity of technical advisory varies according to partners’ needs. Our services will vary from cross-cutting response design to specific workstream advising and implementation accompaniment. The Learning Collaborative will unite a broad ecosystem of PIH partners and other stakeholders, providing trainings, webinars, videos, quality improvement projects, discussion forums, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities to accelerate effective COVID-19 response.

1) Technical advisory services

PIH will advise partners on select aspects of their approach, as needed. PIH is currently assisting several states and municipalities with strong commands of the fundamentals of contact tracing and/or focused on relatively small communities, seeking higher-level or one-off advising.

2) Comprehensive implementation accompaniment

PIH will embed small teams of advisers for 2 to 4 months to co-create their contact tracing program and help design broader COVID response efforts. We will advise partners on all aspects of the approach: community partner identification; communication strategy; effective information flow between state and local departments of health; identification and engagement of key stakeholders; contact tracing workflow, team structure, and supervision structure; scripts and protocols for investigation, tracing, and social support; technology and data use considerations; and the identification of social support needs for individuals in quarantine.

The Learning Collaborative is an open partnership between PIH and U.S. public health entities aimed at sharing lessons, developing custom frameworks, and rapidly mounting contact tracing efforts and effective public health responses to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable. Our hope is that the Learning Collaborative will evolve into a vibrant cadre of global health allies with the common goal of strengthening local health systems and shaping inclusive health policies.

Tier 1: Resource Library
Partners will have access to the Learning Collaborative’s Resource Library, so they can develop, rapidly share, and utilize best practices in contact tracing and the design of a broader COVID public health response. The library is accessible by all public entities wishing to make use of these insights as they design their own programs.

Tier 2: PIH COVID-19 Learning Series
Periodic learning sessions will gather members of the collaborative to share best practices and essential tools for effective contact tracing and overall response to COVID-19. Following each learning session, Partners In Health experts will provide intensive and ongoing support through real-time feedback and coaching to members of the collaborative. A set of best practices will be developed and shared with all collaborative members, who will adapt and apply them in their own settings.

Over the next year, PIH aspires to continue to expand this initial US/COVID-focused learning community. Lessons learned from the U.S. and global members of the collaborative will be critical for future epidemic prevention and control. Individual members of the collaborative will form a cadre of leaders not only for contact tracing, but also for holistic response to pandemics. We envision sustaining this workforce through a structured community of practice for emergency preparedness and response. The alumni will constitute a reserve force capable of responding to COVID-19 and other pandemics.

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If Not PIH, Then Who? 

The PIH mission is centered around a preferential option in health care for the most vulnerable communities. Our philosophy has been forged by numerous collaborative partnerships, social medicine principles, and an uncompromising appetite for radically bold interventions often deemed unattainable by many organizations.

Rich with lived experiences and research-proven interventions acquired over many years, and thanks to strong partnerships with renowned academic and medical institutions such as Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE), our organization is uniquely positioned to steward a progressive approach to public health—an approach anchored in the belief that every life holds equal value, and that community-based partnerships are the key to cure long-standing health inequities.

Our distinctive approach to contact tracing can be summarized as follows:

  • Ownership by the public sector: Partners In Health is committed to building the long-term capacity of public systems in the U.S. through its technical advisory support. PIH’s technical advisers partner with leaders and frontline practitioners in existing health systems to build out their teams, processes, expertise, and implementation capacity. This partnership enables strengthened surveillance and response to continue beyond PIH’s involvement and deepen local capacity and resilience for future outbreaks.
  • Focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable and connecting communities to social support systems: While collection of data is a critical component of contact tracing, PIH works with partners to ensure that contact tracing is equally focused on connections to care and social support for the most vulnerable. To quarantine effectively and thereby prevent further transmission, access to basic resources, such as food and housing, is critical. For vulnerable populations, referrals to social services that can provide ongoing support during isolation are imperative. PIH ensures this element is central to contact tracing and broader response design.
  • Pairing human connection with technology: Human connection is at the heart of PIH’s approach. PIH accompanies partners to thoughtfully integrate technology, when available, to amplify the identification of contacts, but recognizes that not everyone is reachable via technology alone, particularly the most vulnerable. Much of this work is accomplished through phone calls and follow up, a labor intensive but proven technique.

 

How Can Partners Request Technical Advisory Services or Join the Learning Collaborative? 

U.S. partners seeking to become members of the Learning Collaborative should fill out this application form.

Public entities or community organizations seeking technical advisory services for their COVID-19 response can contact TAinfo@pih.org. A member of our team will be in contact within a timely manner to set up a preliminary meeting to assess needs.

Partners who are not yet ready to apply and have general questions about the Learning Collaborative can access the Frequently Asked Questions section or send an email to LearningCollab@pih.org. Read our Terms and Conditions.

Unit Leadership

The newly created U.S. Public Health Accompaniment Unit is led by PIH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joia Mukherjee. Katie Bollbach, Director of the U.S. Public Health Accompaniment Unit, who helped establish West African operations in Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic, will lead technical advisory services and cross-cutting strategy for the Unit.

The Learning Collaborative will be led by PIH’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anatole Manzi, who pioneered similar collaboratives in Rwanda and around the world. The team is exploring existing platforms to enable faster development and deployment. Under the unit’s leadership, a team of PIH experts will be available to facilitate the learning and implementation of best practices. Through the online toolkit and learning community, PIH will reach numerous other COVID-19 warriors across the globe.

Current and Future Funding  

The initial seed investment for the U.S. Public Health Accompaniment Unit was provided by The Audacious Project in April 2020. This funding will allow PIH to accompany select U.S. public health partners for the first 12 months. To fully implement a sustainable vision and expand the scope of the partnership, PIH seeks additional funding partners. For more information about how to support this initiative, please contact LearningCollab@pih.org.

Apply For Resources

U.S. partners can now apply for the Learning Collaborative.

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